Tree stalls India Point Park bridge opening

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The opening of the new pedestrian bridge connecting India Point Park to the Wickenden business district has been postponed until later this fall. The bridge was slated to open Sept. 12 – two years after the original bridge was demolished to make room for the relocation of I-195.

Construction was delayed because workers originally planned to cut down a large, old red-oak tree on a pathway leading to the bridge, but local park enthusiasts saved it from being removed.

“The opening was delayed 45 days because of the saving of the tree,” said David Riley, co-chair for Friends of India Point Park, a citizen group dedicated to the preservation and expansion of the park.

Due to the setback, Friends of India Point Park will not hold their planned celebration for the opening of the bridge until next spring, when the entire project is completed.

“We’ve been told (by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation) that the ramp won’t be done until then,” Riley said, adding that once completed next year, the bridge will feature plants and trees. The walking ramp will be accessible later this fall, he said.

India Point Park, an 18-acre waterfront park between the Providence and Seekonk rivers, is ranked the third most-used park in the city following the downtown skating rink and Roger Williams Park, which is 24 times larger. India Point Park is home to the Mexican Soccer League, the Cape Verdean Independence Festival and the Fox Point Boys and Girls Club, among other groups. It has also been the location for past WBRU concerts and is next to Marston Boathouse, which is used by the University’s rowing teams.

Before the construction city officials told the Friends of India Point Park that the number of people using the park will double after the highway project’s completion, Riley said.

The entire Route 195 project – the construction of the pedestrian bridge, the relocation of I-195 and the replacement of a sewer pipe under Gano and India streets – will cost Rhode Island $26.1 million, according to the state’s Department of Transportation Web site.

Lambri Zerva, design project manager for the state’s Department of Transportation, told The Herald in March that the removal of the old bridge was necessary because its piers would have obstructed the new road links for I-195.

“The new bridge took up space where the old one was, so we couldn’t keep the old one and build the new one at the same time. Unfortunately, (taking down the old bridge) was a necessary evil,” he said.

“We’re looking forward to the completion of the construction,” women’s crew members Vanessa Rathbone ’08 and Molly Getz ’08 wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. “For the past two years, people on our team have been walking down busy roads and a lot of construction, which is not very safe.”

“I used the bridge freshman year to get down to the boathouse. It always seemed kind of rickety because it would shake slightly if a big semi-truck passed underneath it,” said women’s crew member Emma Olson ’08.

Despite the old bridge’s small size and instability, Olson preferred it to an alternative route, which is used to get to the park and boathouse now.

“(The bridge) seemed safer than the current way to get to India Point Park or the boathouse, which is straight down Gano Street and under the bridge,” Olson said. Students must currently cross a freeway ramp to get to the boathouse. “The off ramp was recently rerouted and cars never seem to come to a full stop at the stop sign, which is dangerous for the number of rowers who walk and run by and any other pedestrians heading to the park,” she added.