A job for new bridge group

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Deteriorated abutment of south pedestrian span of College Street Bridge.

The Providence Journal reports that a new organization, Building Bridges Providence, has been formed to push for progress on the long-delayed pedestrian bridge to connect the I-195 development land and its two parks on either side of the Providence River.

That bridge is now not expected to be complete until late 2018, assuming no further delays in its schedule. Building Bridges Providence will throw a party near the end of May to raise public support for the bridge. Its advocates may not be aware, or may prefer to ignore the fact that the bridge’s modernist “unbridge” design is a factor in undermining the public’s support for its construction, along with its constantly increasing cost.

What the group ought to do is to propose its redesign in the guise of further “value engineering” so that the bridge will cost less and look more like the originally proposed bridge – which was jettisoned even though (or perhaps because) it would have fit into the historical context of Providence far better than the current design. Then the group should urge the governor to ask the various developers of the 195 land to put their proposed buildings – all of them are modernist contradictions to the character of Providence, all of them erode its “brand” – through a similar redesign process.

In the meantime, the group has a more immediate task. It should push the city and state to fix the College Street Bridge, which is falling apart. A source of mine, well situated to observe the inner workings of design, development and construction in the city, warns of deterioration that can be seen by anyone who cares to look under the bridge. He writes:

The College Street Bridge is supported by a stone abutment, with large stones mortared together. The mortar is washing away, due to either poor specifications or shoddy workmanship, and abetted by incompetent oversight at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. The mortar that is washing out will threaten the structural stability of the bridge within (my guess) 10 years. This is a big deal, and it will be costly and difficult to repair.

If you look at the bridge at low tide, you will see that the capstones on the upriver side have washed away. The capstone on the downriver is side is sliding off, since the stone below cracked as the mortar supporting it washed out. As the mortar washes away, the abutment will not be able to support the weight of the bridge, and the bridge will become a very picturesque ruin.

The abutments of the Crawford Street Bridge just to the south are holding up better. Washington and Steeple Street bridges have cast concrete abutments, and they show no deterioration. The exposed abutment wall supporting 12 WaterFire embrasures may have similar problems but will not be as costly to fix.

Memorial Boulevard, which was designed with a 40-ton weight limit, is now restricted to 15 tons. The only way a truck driver would know that is to burrow deep into the website of RIDOT, since the agency has not seen fit to put up the required signs. The reason the boulevard’s weight is restricted is that two of the supporting columns, to the east of the Post Office on Kennedy Plaza, have deteriorated rapidly due to shoddy construction, with costly repair inevitable down the road.

This is the same DOT that proposes to build an $800 million (ha!) tunnel to replace the aging Route 6-10 Connector.

My source loves bridges and loves Providence. His warning should be heeded by the city and the state, and should be on the agenda of the new Building Bridges Providence, if it hopes to be taken seriously. Meanwhile, party on!

About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, 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, Architecture Education, Architecture History, Art and design, I-195 Redevelopment District, Preservation, Providence, Providence Journal, Rhode Island, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A job for new bridge group

  1. Anonymous says:

    No, David, they’ll wait for the College Street Bridge to be condemned, then build a new one!


  2. Sound the alarms! You just did….hopefully the bridge-y group with all its concerns will attend to basics, before it can do the next big thing… Kudos, David.


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