BARRINGTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ After nearly two years of having to detour from the East Bay Bike Path and walk alongside cars on Route 114, avid bikers like Steve O’Grady have had it.
“It just gets to the point that on a weekend, especially at this time of year, it’s very crowded up there,” O’Grady said.
The reason for the detour, according to the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT), is because two of the bridges attached to the bike path itself need to be rebuilt.
Charles St. Martin, spokesperson for RIDOT, tells 12 News the bike path bridges were closed in 2019 due to safety concerns.
He said the project stalled when RIDOT realized the money they’d set aside for the project wasn’t enough.
“RIDOT had provided $10 million for the replacement of these bridges,” St. Martin said in a statement. “We began preliminary design in 2020 with the intention of issuing a design-build contract. However, our review yielded much more extensive utility relocations than expected.”
St. Martin estimated it will cost approximately $20-$25 million to replace both bridges.
“Normally, we keep bridges like these open until we have the funds set, the designs complete and a contractor hired to do the work to replace them,” St. Martin said. “But we had to close them because of their deteriorated condition to keep people safe.”
While O’Grady understands the cost of the project is hindering the process, he’s still puzzled by RIDOT’s decision to close the bridges.
“It doesn’t make any sense that they had to close it down, because there’s nothing they could do to make it safer,” he said, referring to the fact that, because of the detours, bikers need to walk across high-traffic bridges instead.
“It gets a little dangerous in those sections, when it’s traffic hour and there’s a lot of cars and all that,” biker Steven Rego added.
These safety concerns have caught the attention of lawmakers on Smith Hill. Rep. Jason Knight recently introduced legislation that would provide RIDOT with $20 million to fix the bridges.
“The East Bay Bike Path is an essential part of our transportation infrastructure,” Knight said. “Bridges that are just for bicyclists and pedestrians guarantee them a safe route over the rivers.”
Rep. June Speakman, one of the bill’s cosponsors, said the investment would put “our transportation money where our mouth is.”
“The Department of Transportation must rebuild the bridges on the East Bay Bike Path, not abandon them,” Speakman said. “Rhode Island has committed to drastically reducing our carbon output, and to do it, we absolutely must invest in active transportation, particularly when it’s as popular, and well-used, as the East Bay Bike Path.”
In the meantime, RIDOT is working to make the detour safer for bikers and pedestrians by widening the lanes, rerouting traffic and installing protective barriers to create additional space between them and oncoming vehicles.
By doing so, bikers won’t need to dismount and walk across either of the bridges.
St. Martin said the safety enhancements will cost $2 million and will be completed by the end of the year. RIDOT expects the detour to be in place for at least two years, or until the bridges are rebuilt.
But Knight argues the detour shouldn’t be in place for that long.
“There’s a limit to how ‘enhanced’ any detour can be on the busy, bottlenecked Route 114 motorist bridges,” Knight said. “These detours are not a long-term solution, and in this case, they are significantly impacting the quality of an important transportation and recreational resource that serves as a key connector for workers, shoppers, tourists and school kids in our region.”
Once the temporary path is no longer needed, RIDOT plans to either further enhance it as an alternative path or remove it completely.
St. Martin said RIDOT is preparing to meet with lawmakers to review the proposed safety enhancements, as well as the potential for additional funding to begin replacing the bridges.