U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline today joined state and union officials to celebrate a $82.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s INFRA Grant Program to upgrade the iconic Pell Bridge that connects Newport and Jamestown. Planned improvements to the deck, cable suspension system, and towers will extend the life of New England’s longest suspension bridge by an additional 50 to 75 years. Today’s event took place at the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority’s Jamestown headquarters with the Pell Bridge in the background.
“The Newport Pell Bridge is a critical asset that gets a lot of wear and tear from traffic and the elements. This federal funding will help RITBA keep it in tip-top shape for years to come. I was pleased to help kick-start the bridge ramp realignment project with a $20 million federal grant in 2018. This latest infusion of federal funding will help refurbish and maintain the bridge, improve safety, and extend its lifespan,” said Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) who worked with his colleagues to include $7.25 billion for competitive INFRA grants and $7.5 billion for competitive Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“This enormous federal grant will prepare the Ocean State’s most iconic bridge for at least another half century of use amid a changing climate,” said Whitehouse, who had a key role in creating the INFRA Program in 2015 to help meet Rhode Island’s need for large-scale infrastructure investments. “It’s a major job-creating investment in Rhode Island’s economic future – the third such investment our state has received from the INFRA Program.”
“The Pell Bridge is one of Rhode Island’s most iconic landmarks, and it’s also an integral piece of our infrastructure. Connecting Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands, the bridge carries tens of thousands of passengers over Narragansett Bay each day. It’s critical that Rhode Islanders and tourists alike can make that journey safely and efficiently,” said Congressman Langevin. “I am thrilled that funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will allow us to keep the Pell Bridge in pristine condition.”
“The Pell Bridge isn’t just critical infrastructure for Rhode Islanders, it’s an icon,” said Congressman Cicilline. “To ensure that this resource is available to Rhode Islanders and visitors for years to come, we need to invest in and modernize the bridge now so that we can return it to a state of good repair while reducing long-term costs and improving safety. The Pell Bridge is a prime example of the types of projects that the bipartisan infrastructure law was designed to support and fund. I’m looking forward to an extended, long life for this Rhode Island icon.”
The project will include a partial depth replacement and rehabilitation of the bridge deck in the main suspended and west approach spans. Climate change has led to more severe storms and more frequent use of salt and other treatments to make the road safe for travel, accelerating the loss of pavement quality. The new pavement will be made of a denser material that is more resistant to the effects of chemical deterioration.
Increased humidity from climate change is also accelerating the need to repair the main cables, suspenders, and other elements of the suspension system. While the cables and suspenders are currently safe, inspection data points to an accelerating pace of deterioration. The funding will be used to install a dehumidification system to reduce moisture levels within the cables and anchorages and halt the corrosion process. The suspender ropes and other elements will be replaced when needed, helping preserve the main cable for an additional 75 years of useful life.
Funding will also be used to repair the tower elevators, replace the finger joints that accommodate movement in the bridge, and repaint the towers. Acoustic monitoring will provide data on the bridge’s condition and additional cameras and sensors will provide greater physical security.
“The Newport Pell Bridge serves as a vital connector for health care services, education, mutual aid among public safety departments, access to jobs, work sites and housing, and as a connector for commuters between the Greater Providence area and Newport County,” said Governor Dan McKee. “This critical grant will help us protect the iconic Newport Pell Bridge from climate change while the completion of the bridge decking and painting of the towers will return the bridge to a state of good repair – bettering the lives of Rhode Islanders and the industries that support our state. I thank our Congressional Delegation for securing this funding from the Biden Administration.”
The Pell Bridge opened in 1969 and was dedicated in honor of the late U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell. The bridge, which carries four lanes of traffic across Narragansett Bay, is operated by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority.
“This administration has orchestrated a successful strategy that has enabled Rhode Island to be competitive for federal dollars. Governor McKee’s efforts, combined with our Congressional delegation’s extraordinary advocacy, puts us in the best position to improve and maintain the infrastructure resources we have across the state,” said Lori Caron Silveira, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. “This funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation will extend the life of our beloved Newport Pell Bridge by an additional 50 to 75 years by underwriting innovative maintenance programs. We are grateful for the collaboration of federal and state officials, as well as the support of private sector and labor interests that makes these projects possible.”
In 2018, the delegation secured $20 million in federal funding to upgrade the ramps leading from Aquidneck Island to the Pell Bridge.
“This is a smart investment in Rhode Island’s economic future and quality of life for the next half century,” said Michael Sabitoni, President of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council. “I want to thank our congressional delegation and the Biden administration for bringing this funding to the Ocean State. An infrastructure investment of this magnitude will create good union jobs and opportunities for Rhode Islanders for years to come.”
“In addition to the social and economic benefits to the general public of ensuring our infrastructure is well maintained, safe, and secure, this project will ensure continued employment opportunities for the highly trained, skilled bridge painters of the IUPAT in Rhode Island. We have been proud to partner with the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to preform preventative maintenance year-round to the Pell, Mt. Hope, Jamestown, and Sakonnet bridges. This federal grant will enable not only the capital improvements, but ongoing annual maintenance. The careers afforded by this grant to working families in Rhode Island cannot be understated. Thanks to the hard work of the Biden administration, our great Senators and Congressmen, Governor McKee, the RI DOT and RITBA, we can ensure that the Newport Pell bridge is not just a bridge from Newport to Jamestown but a bridge of opportunity into the middle class,” said Justin Kelley, Business Representative for the Rhode Island Painters and Allied Trades.
The bipartisan infrastructure law passed late last year included $7.25 billion for the INFRA program over the next five years. First authorized in 2015 as the FASTLANE grant program, the INFRA discretionary grant program provides funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for large-scale highway and multimodal projects that might otherwise stall without additional federal support. Rhode Island previously received a $60.3 million INFRA grant to rebuild the Northbound Providence Viaduct and a $65 million INFRA grant to overhaul Route 146.