Claiborne Pell Bridge
An icon of the state of Rhode Island, the Claiborne Pell Bridge, commonly called by locals the Newport Pell Bridge or Newport Bridge, is an important gateway to one of the most beautiful, historic cities in America. Built to replace a ferry service, the bridge greatly contributed to a surge in Newport’s tourism industry following its opening.
Although planning began in 1934, efforts to build the bridge were delayed until after World War II. In April of 1948, the state began serious efforts to construct a bridge over the East Passage of Narragansett Bay by creating Newport-Jamestown Civic Commission to explore options to finance and build a bridge. Construction of the approach piers began on April 5, 1966, and work on the tower piers and anchorages began one month later.
The $57 million Newport Bridge opened to traffic on June 28, 1969 with a ceremony at the toll plaza, which also houses RITBA’s headquarters. The bridge’s engineers won awards for excellence in engineering design from the New York Association of Consulting Engineers, the Consulting Engineers Council, the American Iron and Steel Institute, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. It remains the longest suspension bridge in New England.
Owned, operated and maintained by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, the bridge’s main span crosses Narragansett Bay at a length of 1,601 feet (288 m). The overall length of the bridge is 11,247 feet (3,428 m). The East and West towers rise 400 feet (122 m) above the water surface, and the peak of the roadway deck is 215 feet (66 m). RI Route 138 crosses the four-lane bridge, two in each direction.
In 1992, the Rhode Island legislature renamed it the Claiborne Pell Bridge, in honor of the long-serving U.S. Senator Claiborne S. Pell of Newport. Pell is best known as the sponsor of the Pell Grant, which provides financial-aid funding to American college students.
Toll revenue is earmarked for the payment of interest on the original bonds used to build the bridge as well as to provide for the repair and maintenance efforts to keep the bridge well maintained for the approximately 27,000 vehicles that cross it daily. In December 16, 2008, RITBA added electronic tolling equipment that allows E-ZPass users to pay for tolls in RI and in 17 states via transponder and an online account. Two of the lanes are dedicated for E-ZPass transponder users only, greatly reducing traffic at the toll booths where cash payments occur.
An image of the bridge appears on the back side of the Rhode Island version of the U.S. quarter, and the bridge is among the most photographed landmarks in Rhode Island.
On May 25, 2018, RITBA raised an American flag on the Claiborne Pell Bridge for the first time since its opening in June of 1969.
Mount Hope Bridge
The design of the 285-foot-tall towers features a cross-braced design with a Gothic arch above the roadway. The towers provide a balance to the uniformly deep truss of the roadway. In a departure from black and grey bridges of the time, this bridge was painted green to harmonize it with the landscape and in doing so, introduced the use of color in bridge design. Also novel was the use of artistic lighting to accentuate the beauty of the span at night.
Originally designed and owned by the New Hope Bridge Company, it had a bumpy start in life. Primary construction of the Mount Hope Bridge, which connects Portsmouth, R.I. with Bristol, R.I., began on December 1, 1927 but ran into difficulties just four months before it was to open to traffic. Serious structural problems were discovered, forcing the contractor to disassemble and reassemble portions of the bridge. The total cost, including bonds, debentures and common stock was $4.2 million, and the New Hope Bridge Company was spared the $1 million cost for the corrections. Five days after the bridge opened on October 24, 1929, the stock market crashed, throwing the American economy in turmoil and launching the Great Depression. By 1931, the Mount Hope Bridge Company went bankrupt, and Rudolf F. Haffenreffer, owner of a brewery, purchased the bridge in receivership.
In 1954, the Mount Hope Bridge was purchased by the State of Rhode Island and is now administered by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, which succeeded the Mount Hope Bridge Authority in 1964.
It’s a two-lane wire-cable suspension bridge spanning the Mount Hope Bay in eastern Rhode Island, at one of the narrowest gaps in Narragansett Bay. Its towers are 285 feet (87 m) tall; the length of the main span is 1,200 feet (366 m); and the road sits 135 feet (41 m) over high water. The total length of the bridge is 6,130 feet (1,868m).
Instead of raising the toll incrementally to meet the bridge’s growing maintenance and repair needs, toll collection ended on May 1, 1998, and Claiborne Pell Bridge tolls must meet the needs of this bridge and the three other bridges in RITBA’s control. Interestingly, the inaugural toll rate was 60 cents for a one-way crossing, double what the toll was when it was removed. The toll booths, located on the Bristol side of the bridge, were removed in 1999. The guardhouse, on the opposite side, remains.
Today, the bridge carries approximately 15,000 vehicles per day via RI 114. Until the Newport Pell Bridge was built, the Mount Hope Bridge remained the longest suspension bridge in New England for 40 years.
The Mount Hope Bridge was awarded the 1929 Artistic Bridge Award of the American Institute of Steel Construction as the most beautiful, long-span bridge built that year. In announcing the choice, the president of the AISC wrote that, “The Mount Hope Bridge commended itself to the jury because of its sheer grace…The designer of this bridge must have had very clearly in mind the quality of beauty in addition to the essential factors of strength, stability and endurance.”
On June 29, 2017, RITBA raised an American flag on the Mount Hope Bridge for the first time since its opening in October of 1929.
Sakonnet River Bridge
Originally built in 1956 as a replacement for the Stone Bridge, the 56-year old truss bridge was replaced with a box girder version in 2012. It features two 12-foot lanes travel lanes in each direction as well as a bicycle and pedestrian path.
Until 2013, the Sakonnet River Bridge was owned and operated by the State of Rhode Island. Ownership was transferred from the state to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority together with the Jamestown Verrazano Bridge. RITBA owns and operates these bridges as well as the Newport Pell Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge – all connecting Aquidneck Island and Jamestown with mainland Rhode Island. Tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge and a state apportionment of the gasoline tax provide revenue for the upkeep and maintenance of these four major Rhode Island bridges. An average of 40,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily, and the posted speed limit is 40 mph.
The construction of the newer version of the Sakonnet River Bridge began in April, 2009 and was funded by the Federal Highway Administration, including $121 million in GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) bonds, $17.9 million in motor fuel bonds, and $91.5 million in other highway funds.
At 2,982.5 feet long, the Sakonnet River Bridge is the fourth longest bridge in Rhode Island. The largest span is 400 feet long and the deck width is 94.2 feet. The main span is comprised of continuous steel, and the deck is concrete cast-in-place with a bituminous roadway. The bridge steel, familiarly known as a “weathering steel,” is an alloy designed to create an earthy, reddish-brown patina. Unlike regular steel, which must be painted to combat the rust and deterioration, the corrosion of the surface of the weathering steel protects the steel throughout. The state DOT determined that this material helped save $39 million because the bridge will not need to be repainted during its expected lifetime.
With a dedicated lane for bicycle travel, the bridge is one leg of the Aquidneck Island Bikeway – an 18-mile route along the west side of the island through Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport — expanding the length of recreational cycling facilities in the state.
Perched from the 24 poles on the bridge are special LED lights that are programmed to change color. Their “normal” color is light blue, but the color schemes change to commemorate special days and holidays, such as Independence Day (red, white and blue) and Thanksgiving (gold, orange and brown).
Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge
The bridge first opened to traffic in 1940 replacing ferry service for the town of Jamestown. It was constructed for just over $3 million dollars in 1940, which was paid for by tolls until June 28, 1969.
The Jamestown Bridge was closed to vehicular traffic on October 8, 1992, and its main span was destroyed through a controlled demolition on April 18, 2006. The Jamestown Bridge was replaced by the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge which is a 7, 350-foot, post-tensioned, double-cell concrete box girder bridge with four travel lanes separated by a concrete jersey barrier. The bridge is named for Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano.