2011-02-10 / News

Dismantling the last of the Old Jamestown Bridge

By Sam Bari

Snow, sleet, rain and frigid temperatures are not deterring the dismantling of the last section of the Old Jamestown Bridge.

The weather just makes the work more difficult, according to Project Manager Larry Ahearn of Reagan Construction Corporation of Middletown. The company was awarded the project by the R.I. Department of Transportation on Oct. 12.

According to RIDOT Spokesman Charles St. Martin III, state law mandated that the last 1,600- foot section on the Kingstown side of the West Passage become a public fishing pier. However, costs to restore the remaining section to safe standards were prohibitive, and the decision was made to build a new pier for less money.

In 2008, state legislators revised the law and ordered RIDOT to finish dismantling the last section of the old bridge that had continued to deteriorate.

Work began on the $961,000 project in November. The state estimated that the work would be completed in three months. However, after considering the complexity of the project and factoring in delays caused by inclement winter weather, a more realistic date for completion was scheduled for June 15.

Ahearn estimated that an average of 12 men were working five days a week to dismantle the structure piece by piece.

“It depends on what we’re doing on any particular day that determines the number of workers we’ll need,” Ahearn said. “I would say that we average 12 men a day.”

He went on to say that all the concrete would be crushed and recycled. “The steel beams and girders will also be brought to a salvage yard where they too will be recycled,” he said. “We recycle everything we can.”

When Reagan Construction was awarded the project, representatives said that explosives would not be needed to dismantle the pilings. Ahearn explained that a concrete shear will be used to cut off the pilings at the base.

A crane will then lift the pilings onto a barge that will haul them to a salvage yard, where the concrete will be crushed, and both the steel and concrete will be recycled.

After the bleak winter turns to spring, the last remnants of more than half a century of history will have been erased from the Narragansett Bay shoreline, marking the end of a historically significant era.

The Old Jamestown Bridge connected Conanicut Island and the village of Jamestown with the mainland, and threatened to change life on the island forever.

The island that was once a summer tourist destination for the well heeled, and a predominantly agricultural community, was only accessible by boat.

The construction of the bridge in 1940 quickly turned Jamestown into a thriving residential and vacation hotspot.

The Old Jamestown Bridge reshaped the future of Conanicust Island. Jamestown had to struggle to preserve its roots and the rural charm that dates back to before the Revolutionary War.

Most considered the bridge to be a blessing. However, those who understood the true value of the “Jewel of Narragansett Bay” – as Jamestown had become known – were wary of how the bridge might influence island life.

Fortunately, the town fathers took steps to prepare for the future. The Jamestown Bridge ultimately proved to be an asset that gave access to visitors and residents alike without disrupting the traditions and proud past of Jamestown.

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