Inside ProvModPedBridge

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Current design for Providence pedestrian bridge. (DK Communications)

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has announced a slight advance in the schedule for getting design, bidding and construction of the modernist pedestrian bridge that will (?) link two parks and the east and west parcels of development land on either side of the Providence River.

Kate Bramson’s story in today’s Journal, “DOT: I-195 land pedestrian bridge going out to bid soon,” says the bridge may be finished by late 2018.

The cost has skyrocketed from initial estimates of $4 million years ago, after the design won a competition in 2010, to $13.2 million today. For the past two years, RIDOT was saying that the bridge would cost $5.5 million. Now it says money to build it is available in a special fund set aside when DOT sold the land to the I-195 Redevelopment Commission. But I think – I could be wrong – it may be owed to the federal DOT, which owned the highway land.

Preliminary design documents for the bridge leave what it will look like largely to the imagination. Let’s hope these intricate plans represent the project prior to “value engineering” (cost cutting). The bridge is expected to look like what is pictured above, with its landscape spreading south from the eastern half of the bridge, where Route 195 used to cross the Providence.

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Pont des Arts, in Paris.

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Original winning entry of bridge competition.

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Second-place entry in bridge competition.

I’ve been rooting against the bridge, partly because of its design and partly because of its suspicious origin. When U.S. Rep. David Cicilline was mayor, the elegant traditional bridge proposed by I-195 relocation project design consultant Bill Warner (based on the Pont des Arts in Paris) was given the heave-ho. A new modernist design took its place after a competition that seemed to me to have a number of flaws. One was the apparent exclusion of any traditional bridge design. The other was that the  winning entry seemed so expensive (it even included a restaurant) that one might be forgiven for suspecting it was selected in order to be jettisoned later (for reasons of cost) in favor of the second-place bridge, by a local design team (Friedrich St. Florian and 3six0) whose principals included, according to my sources, a friend of the former mayor.

Well, I have no hard evidence for this – evidence of that sort is rarely available to mere members of the press; usually official investigations and court orders are required. Still, such factors have caused me to wish that the current proposal would fall and the Warner proposal – or another simpler proposal of greater elegance and lesser cost than the current one – would rise in its place, maybe even as the result of value engineering on the current proposal.

Ironically, the cost of the current proposal has tripled in spite of the removal of its restaurant component. And RIDOT has still not repaired the original designers’ laughable oversight of failing to include a passage for the extended riverwalk under the western abutment of the bridge.

This bridge is unnecessary. The Crawford Street Bridge and the Point Street Bridge would do the job – already are doing the job – well enough. But the Cicillines of the world want a bridge that will wow design elites who are easily goggled by high-tech razzmatazz. Fortunately, it seems as if the view of the bridge from the two northerly embankments, from which most people will see it, may appear more traditional.

The money for this bridge would be better spent on dredging the river channel from Waterplace Park to Point Street Bridge, plus – and here is real news – repairing the extraordinary deterioration of at least one bridge along the new riverfront. These bridges were only built 10 to 14 years ago, but one of them, the College Street Bridge, has suffered serious structural damage.

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College Street Bridge, with its two flanking pedestrian bridges.. (iloveprovidence.org)

Look at the preliminary design documents. They are almost indecipherable, but they do suggest why a bridge of this complexity keeps growing in cost.

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Page toward end of preliminary  design documents for pedestrian bridge. (RIDOT)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
This entry was posted in Architects, Architecture, Art and design, Development, Landscape Architecture, Providence, Providence Journal, Rhode Island, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Inside ProvModPedBridge

  1. David,
    The College Street bridge was opened in 1993.

    Like

  2. The true purpose of any department of transportation is not to provide for the transportation needs of society but to provide for the income desires of transportation officials, friends of transportation officials working for the pilot fish in the industry, and, to a lesser extent, to transportation workers. This explains all.

    Like

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