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