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City hosts competition for bridge designs

The city of Providence is holding a design competition to choose the designer of the future pedestrian bridge across the Providence River.

As a final part of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation's Iway project, the bridge will connect the Fox Point and College Hill neighborhoods to the Jewelry District and downtown Providence.

State and city planners were unable to come to a consensus on a design for the bridge and as a result decided to stage the competition, said Lambri Zerva, design project manager for the Iway relocation effort.

Interested firms and designers submitted their qualifications to the Department of Planning and Development on Sept. 17. The city will select ten finalists by Friday. The finalists will submit their bridge designs by Oct. 29, and the city plans to announce the design award by Dec. 3. Though the dates for the beginning and end of construction have yet to be decided, Zerva said he hopes the bridge will be completed by the end of 2013.

Zerva said the project planners hope the design competition will allow them to explore as many ideas as possible. After the highway is pulled down, "we want the area that remains to be something," he said.  

While project planners were considering the demolition of the old I-195 river crossing, they realized completely demolishing the bridge would cost about as much as constructing a new pedestrian bridge atop the five existing granite supports, Zerva said.  In its request for design services, the city of Providence named a number of restrictions and suggestions for bridge designers. For example, the 450-foot bridge must include the five existing granite support piers as a central design element, provide adequate seating and gathering areas, and be wide enough for pedestrians, bicyclists, runners and strollers to use at the same time. Designers are also encouraged to consider environmentally-friendly design elements in their planning.

A July 29 Providence Journal opinions column named three groups interested in submitting designs for the bridge: William D. Warner Architects and Planners, the Maguire Group and architects Jay Litman and Michael van Hamel.

Litman said that his firm, Litman Architecture, submitted a letter of interest to the competition.

Though he said the firm will not fully begin work on a design unless selected as one of the 10 finalists, he said he imagined creating an urban streetscape that would "become a destination" to residents of Providence and beyond. He sees the pedestrian bridge as "an amazing opportunity" to create an extraordinary new architectural feature in Providence. He named the Ponte Vecchio — a bridge over the Arno River in Florence — as a possible inspiration. The Ponte Vecchio consists of an entire city street built over the water, and the 450-foot span of the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge might give designers enough room to construct a similar area, he said.

Litman described the city of Providence's competition as less of a bridge design than an urban design competition.

RIDOT decided that the old interchange between I-95 and I-195 should be relocated south of Providence, following research and studies conducted between the mid-'80s and late '90s. Zerva described a number of problems with the old interstate: traffic congestion, weaving, numerous and closely spaced on- and off-ramps, and deficiencies with existing bridge structures. The old interstate, Zerva said, was "well past its service life and design life."

RIDOT then conceived of the Iway project, a series of 16 projects that would move the interchange of I-95 and I-195 to the south. According to the RIDOT website, all of the completed ramps in the I-95 and I-195 interchange will enter roadways from the right hand side, in accordance with modern highway standards.

In 1999, designs were finalized and work on the Iway project began. After almost a decade of construction, Zerva said all the major milestones of the project have been reached.

"The benefits are already being realized and have been realized for some time," he said.


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