After turtle-related delay, old Sakonnet Bridge set to come down

Photo by John Villella, WPRI

TIVERTON, R.I. (WPRI) – Nearly five years after the old Sakonnet River Bridge was closed, state transportation officials say the work to finally begin tearing it down will begin this spring.

In a news release, Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti called the removal of the old, rusting green bridge “long overdue.”

“We thank everyone ahead of time for their patience and any disruption the demolition activity may cause,” Alviti said. “Rest assured, we’ll work closely with our contractor to minimize the impact of this work and complete it as quickly as possible.”

In 2012, when the new Sakonnet River Bridge opened to motorists traveling between Tiverton and Portsmouth on Route 24, state transportation officials said the old bridge would likely be torn down in a year.

Three years later the Target 12 Investigators reported RIDOT was running into delays because of protected marine life – primarily turtles – that were in the area. The state was ordered to do further environmental reviews to “ensure protection of endangered species including the Green Sea Turtle, the Leatherback Sea Turtle and the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, as well as the marine life including Loggerhead Sea Turtles and Atlantic Sturgeon,” according to R.I. Department of Transportation spokesperson Charles St. Martin.

The old bridge will come down in two phases: RIDOT officials said the phase beginning this spring will involve taking down 17 spans between the bridges piers.

“This includes approximately 6.2 million pounds of steel and 2,700 cubic yards of concrete,” St. Martin wrote in the news release.

Crew will be working during daytime hours to minimize noise disruption for people who live near the bridge, and St. Martin said there will be minimal impact to traffic in the area during demolition.

“Splitting this up allows us to get going now rather than doing the whole thing at once,” St. Martin said.

The winning bidder for phase one was S&R Corporation of Lowell, Mass.

In 2015, RIDOT officials told Target 12 the entire demolition cost would total $16 million. Now they say the first phase alone will total $15 million with an unknown dollar amount on the second phase.

That will involve removing the large “substructure elements” that emerge from the water – and edges of the river – to support the main superstructure of the bridge.

“RIDOT is considering using controlled explosive demolition, as it did for a portion of the former railroad trestle adjacent to the old bridge, and for the old Jamestown Bridge,” St. Martin said.

The anticipated end date for the first phase of the project is the summer of 2018. It’s unclear when the footings will be completely removed.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook