JAMESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — State officials say planned improvements to the Newport Pell Bridge will help to extend its life by an additional 50 to 75 years.
Rhode Island’s congressional delegation joined state and local officials Monday to celebrate an $82.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s INFRA Grant Program to help make the upgrades to New England’s longest suspension bridge.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse authored the federal grant program in 2015 in an effort to help meet Rhode Island’s need for large-scale infrastructure investments.
“[The INFRA Grant Program] created a pathway for the Providence Viaduct at $60-plus million, 146 upgrade at another $60-plus million, and then the crown jewel here, $80-plus million to refit our iconic Pell Bridge,” Whitehouse said.
From painting towers and renovating the elevators to rehabilitating the deck and replacing finger joints, the renovations are wide-ranging and badly needed, according to R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) Executive Director Lori Caron Silveira.
“That’s a bridge over a body of salt water,” she said. “Humidity, climate change, the effects of all of that affect the wires that make up the main cables and in the anchorages. We will be able to do that dehumidification project.”
RITBA said that while the cables and suspenders are currently safe, inspection data points to an accelerating pace of deterioration.
“All of these projects, they needed to be done, but they would have waited for years were it not for efforts of those who are here celebrating with us today,” Caron Silveira added.
With 29,000 vehicles crossing the Pell Bridge per day and almost 11 million vehicles crossing per year, the renovations will help Rhode Islanders and tourists alike.
Officials said the project also brings jobs.
“These jobs are going to be critical for the next several years for the state of Rhode Island. And then when we build out this infrastructure, that’s going to provide us with decades of economic opportunity,” Gov. Dan McKee said.
Various federal grants have been able to keep the bridge accessible, including a $20 million grant Sen. Jack Reed secured in 2018 to help kick-start the bridge ramp realignment project.
The bipartisan infrastructure law passed late last year included more than $7 billion to keep the INFRA Grant Program running over the next five years.
State officials said the 93-year-old Mt. Hope Bridge is also a priority. According to Whitehouse, the delegation is working on getting an additional grant to make much-needed improvements.