The late George Henderson, of Rumford, is the engineer who designed the Henderson Bridge across the Seekonk River, replacing upstream the old Red Bridge between Providence and East Providence. Known as “Mr. Highways,” he must have been a pretty popular guy, because the bridge, completed in 1969 as part of a never-built connector to Route 195, is of no distinction whatever. It looks like what it is – a highway overpass.
Put some sort of an arch on the bridge, something recognizing Rhode Island’s status as a fount of lovely bridges, such as the Newport Bridge, the Mount Hope Bridge and, more recently, the two bridges taking Route 114 from Barrington to Warren. Those two bridges took eight years to build (quadruple what it took to build the Empire State Building in 1930), and went over budget, too, but the payback was in the elegant lamp posts, which gave them distinction.
A bridge arch or maybe a set of truly lovely bridge lamp posts would be sure to make George Henderson smile.
RIDOT held a public session on the bridge’s design yesterday at the Lincoln School, on Hope Street in Providence.* It was a start. The bridge lamps in the RIDOT working image atop this post have the sort of cheesy olde-timey lamp posts similar to those erected not long ago along the east end of Westminster Street in downtown. What a letdown they are! Westminster deserves better, and so would the Henderson, if beauty is to be the strategy by which the bridge’s distinction will be achieved.
Assuming beauty is part of the strategy. But it cannot be assumed. Jersey barriers? Give us a break! Which is why Monday’s meeting at Lincoln was so important.
A more ambitious strategy would be to add an arch superstructure to the bridge, as recently suggested by the architect Michael Tyrrell, of Providence, who sits with me on the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. Such an arch (along with three imposing pylons at each end) gives considerable distinction to the new IWAY bridge over the Providence from the Jewelry District to Fox Point. It should be considered for the Henderson Bridge.
Dodgy, to say the least, is the word for RIDOT’s planned three roundabouts in the plan for the new Henderson Bridge. In fact, the bridge, whose size has already been greatly narrowed and downsized, should be shifted away from its current long diagonal track across the Seekonk. That would shorten it, lower its cost, and incorporate its new and smaller approaches into the existing street grid on either side of the river. The result of such a shift would enable the two main streets that approach the narrowest part of the river to be connected by the span. Those streets are Waterman Street and Waterman Avenue, once connected by the old Red Bridge.
Such a shift would eliminate entirely the need for on-ramps, off-ramps and confusing roundabouts. It would open up more land on either side of the river for development. It would probably decrease the cost in time and money to build the project, enabling RIDOT to add a much nicer archway, better lamp pots, pleasing pylons, or some combination of these (or maybe something else) to turn the bridge into a span worth driving, biking or walking over, not to mention looking at, and commensurate with the charming new communities that could spring up on either side.
Think big, RIDOT! Think smart! Even Mr. Highways would agree.
[*This post originally reported an upcoming meeting about the Henderson Bridge design at the Lincoln School on Monday. The meeting took place this past Monday, the day before this post was written, based on a Providence Journal report published on the day of the meeting and announcing the day (Monday) but not the date of the meeting. My apologies for absent diligence in not double-checking the Journal’s reporting, and I hope nobody was inconvenienced.]