PAWTUCKET — Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, a retired 20-year veteran of the Pawtucket Police Department, noted that he was just a young patrolman when the Conant Street Railroad Bridge was closed due to structural deterioration. However, after 22 years of delays, the bridge is finally slated to be replaced, and the reopening of Conant Street to through traffic will greatly improve police and fire response time to that neighborhood as well as the economic development of the city as a whole, he added.
Kilmartin, a former state representative from Pawtucket, was one of a group of city and state officials who gathered at the bridge site on Friday for a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a new bridge. Sen. Elizabeth Crowley, Mayor Donald Grebien, former Mayor James Doyle and other past and present members of both mayoral administrations were on hand to witness the official start of a project that many had almost given up on.
Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis spoke of the complicating factors, including Amtrak owning the right of way under the bridge and related insurance indemnification and liability issues on Amtrak’s part that contributed to the long delays. However, he credited Gov. Lincoln Chafee and the state's Congressional delegation, as well as the Grebien and Doyle administrations, for being instrumental in pushing for legislation that finally led to a resolution with Amtrak.
“We are pleased to join with the city of Pawtucket for the replacement of this bridge,” said Lewis. “Through this project, we will help the city recognize their vision for urban revitalization in this area.”
Mayor Donald Grebien said, “The reopening of this bridge will provide a long-missing link vital to our city’s economic future. It will be a boon to businesses, especially in the Conant Street Industrial Park area which is being evaluated for commuter rail development.”
The mayor added that having the bridge roadway open to traffic flow will also increase visibility and make the neighborhood safer as well as help protect the historic Mineral Spring Avenue Cemetery from vandals. Turning to Lewis, he smiled and added, “Make sure this is done in a year!”
John Partridge, of The Pawtucket Foundation, said the new Conant Street Railroad Bridge will be “the second ‘bridge to prosperity’” with the first being the I-95 Pawtucket River Bridge that is currently under construction.
He gestured to the industrial area behind him and said the Conant Street Railroad Bridge is key to its future development. Partridge also noted that the bridge is essential to the success of the commuter rail station that is in the planning stages for the Barton Street area—another important factor in the city’s economic development goals.
Sen. Elizabeth Crowley noted that because of this enabling legislation, the Conant Street Railroad Bridge, as well as over 160 other such railroad bridges that have been closed throughout the state, can begin to be prioritized for repair and replacement. The legislation allowed for all of the railroad bridges in Rhode Island in which Amtrak owns the right of way under, to be indemnified all at once instead of singularly.
Crowley said that having Conant Street open to through traffic is important to the neighborhood and its future mill development as well as helping to ease congestion on Lonsdale Avenue.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the city-owned Conant Street Railroad Bridge was built in 1913 by the American Bridge Company of New York. The structure carries Conant Street over Amtrak and the Providence and Worcester (P&W) Railroads between Mineral Spring Avenue and Barton and Weeden Streets in Pawtucket. The existing bridge was closed in 1989.
According to RIDOT officials, the new Conant Street Railroad Bridge will be a single span truss structure with steel floor beams, steel stringers, and a concrete deck. The bridge will be fabricated with weathering steel which will develop a protective patina coating over the base steel and will therefore require less maintenance. The new roadway will have two 13-foot travel lanes and two five-foot wide sidewalks that will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The project will also include new fencing, guardrail and curbing, minor drainage and utility improvements, and installation of new signage and striping.
RIDOT will also repave most of Conant Street and reconstruct the sidewalks from the east abutment to just short of the Mineral Spring Avenue intersections.
Through a $4.3 million federally funded construction contract with Cardi Corporation, project completion is slated for summer 2013. The existing bridge will be demolished.