New plan keeps Diamond Hill bridge open

New plan keeps Diamond Hill bridge open

CUMBERLAND – Repaving of the Diamond Hill water line project from Chapel Four Corners south is wrapping up this week, the next step in the continued upgrades to the state roadway, but with a pair of future bridge projects in the wings, there’s still more work to be done.

Charles St. Martin, spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, said this week that both the I-295 overpass connecting two new roundabouts and the tiny but important Newell Bridge at Diamond Hill and Nate Whipple Highway are now scheduled for construction in 2024.

Public Works Director Bob Anderson said that means construction will actually be completed in 2024, but likely started in the spring of 2023.

Representatives from various town departments met with RIDOT officials in a video conference call on Monday to discuss the bridge project.

St. Martin said Tuesday that the current plan is to do work on the Newell Bridge during overnight hours “and keep the road open for the vast majority of the contract.” There may be some weekend closures for bridge installation, he said, but that is something that will be determined during the design phase.

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The Breeze reported last March that RIDOT had the Newell Bridge on the schedule for construction in late 2021, and in March of 2019 reported that the I-295 overpass would be replaced starting in 2022, not long after the roundabout project was completed, but St. Martin said this week that both bridges are listed in the latest edition of RIDOT’s 10-year plan, now under review, as having design starting in 2022 and construction in 2024.

“The method of replacement and a data-driven evaluation of the traffic patterns associated with construction will be part of the design process,” he said by email.

Anderson said the Newell Bridge project, which will widen the bridge and maintain historical abutments, was on hold awaiting funding. RIDOT representatives were aware that town officials did not like the idea of closing the bridge completely, he said, so a preliminary schedule where work will be done on night and some weekend hours will is a positive change.

“That’s a really good thing,” he said of the plan to minimize daytime work. There will still be some daytime closures, he said.

Motorists have likely noticed the traffic barriers placed on the sidewalks of the Newell Bridge to prevent truck traffic from driving over those more deteriorated portions of the span.

Mayor Jeff Mutter said the town sees the Newell Bridge project as a “serious issue” and is “really cognizant” of its potential impacts on traffic. There are very few options for getting to the northernmost part of town where Diamond Hill Park is located, he said, and the town would need to make some sort of arrangements to temporarily locate some sort of public safety services in that area if the bridge is shut down. Safety is the top concern, he said, and then the aggravation of having such a pivotal connection point closed to traffic.

Asked in 2019 why RIDOT didn’t coordinate the roundabout project and overpass reconstruction for the same time, to reopen everything at once, St. Martin said the roundabouts and safety improvements have been in RIDOT plans for some time under separate initiatives.

“The bridge was identified as part of our bridge program,” he said then. “Under RhodeWorks, we are working hard to reduce bridge deficiency statewide to meet the federal minimum bridge deficiency of 10 percent. We are currently at 23.3 percent.