PAWTUCKET — With jokes about the waterway actually being the Seekonk River, the stylish new span that carries Interstate 95 across it was formally dedicated as the Pawtucket River Bridge Thursday in a ceremony attended by federal, state and local officials.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, state Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien joined in the unveiling of the sign that will be affixed to the $81 million bridge, which serves as a major link for the Rhode Island’s interstate system.
Lewis noted that the Pawtucket River Bridge, built with 80 percent federal funding and 20 percent dollars from the state, is actually a set of three separate bridges that carry motorists northbound and southbound on I-95 between exits 27 and 28. Yet, he noted that the entire project involved the rehabilitation or replacement of six other smaller bridges and related roadways, all of which would greatly improve the infrastructure of the area for years to come.
“In the Ocean State, you can’t go far without crossing a bridge,” said Lewis. “And our legislators recognized this bridge project as being the backbone of our economy.”
Lewis thanked the DOT engineers, design and construction teams, as well as the main contractor, S&R/Pihl, plus Commonwealth Engineering, CDR/Maguire, the Turino Group, and Cardi Corporation for their efforts on the project, which took three years to complete and came in at about $20 million under budget. He also noted the collaborative effort between DOT and a bridge committee established by the city to design “Bridge 550,” as it was previously known, with elements that lent it a signature style.
Chafee noted that with the new bridge, “We won’t be seeing those poor truckers pulled over,” referring to the several years of weight restrictions and $1,000-plus fines issued to the drivers who had ignored the detours. He further thanked the General Assembly for backing legislation that raised revenue from increased fees on licenses and other local funding measures that kept the state from having to borrow heavily to pay its portion of the bridge cost.
Grebien spoke of the importance of the span to the city’s economic development, saying, “We see this as a bridge of new opportunity.” He spoke of the impressive design of the finished product, but also thanked the residents of the city, and most importantly, the owners of nearby businesses for their patience during the three years they were inconvenienced by the construction and detours.
Grebien acknowledged Richard Kazarian, Morris Nathanson, and other visionary Pawtucket residents who served on the bridge design team “who saw it as much more than a slab of concrete.” He noted that the full beauty of the span will be celebrated on Saturday at 7 p.m., when the structure’s colorful lighting system will be switched on and demonstrated for the first time. “It will be exciting to see this happen,” he promised.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, a Pawtucket native, also spoke of the community effort involved in the project. He said it was “not just the politicians, but the citizens, people like Richard Kazarian, Morris Nathanson and Bob Billington, who wanted to showcase the structure as more than a bridge and make it a work of art.” He added that the completed span is a symbol for the state of Rhode Island “that we can build something and get it right.”
Other speakers included Senator Jack Reed, Congressman James Langevin, Federal Highway Administration Division Administrator Carlos Machado and Kazarian, who gave a history behind the bridge and its meaning for Pawtucket.
Kazarian spoke of the Art Deco-inspired winged sculptures that flank both sides of the bridge, saying, “By employing the use of the powerful wings that distinguish the entry of our City Hall and sit atop its steeple, we have sought to forever link our historic past to our rising future.”
Kazarian concluded by saying that the Pawtucket River Bridge may not be the longest or most elaborate bridge in the state, “but for us, it has the humble aura of strength and understated refinement that for so long defined our people and our home.”
According to the R.I. State Police, the enforcement during the time of the weight restrictions, from Nov. 28, 2007, through Sept. 18, 2012, resulted in a total amount of fines written of nearly $11.3 million. However, this amount does not represent the fines that were ultimately collected by the state (this figure could not be obtained as of press time).
Pawtucket City Councilor Albert Vitali, one of the most vocal critics of the detours and a lobbyist for Pawtucket receiving a share of the state’s bridge fine revenue, said he was impressed with the completed bridge. He added that while the city did not receive the bridge fine dollars, it did end up getting the benefit of the renovation of the six other smaller bridges and local streets, plus the promised repaving, repointing and other work for the Division Street Bridge.
Follow Donna Kirwan on Twitter@KirwanDonna