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Bridge to link East side, Jewelry District


The city of Providence has chosen a design for a pedestrian bridge to link the East Side to the Jewelry District, though budget problems leave the timeline for the project in doubt. The bridge would join College Hill to the new home of the Alpert Medical School, which is set to open in 2012.

The design competition winner, Michigan-based Inform Studio, was announced in December after a selection committee presented the top two choices — which also included a design from local firm Studio Providence — to then-Mayor David Cicilline '83 for final selection.

According to Inform Studio's description, the bridge will include a cafe on the lower deck, a terrace to the south with available seating, water jets near the Dorrance Street entrance and an extension of the proposed western waterfront park that would incorporate a garden into the deck's access points.

The selection committee chose the winning design based on its potential to attract residents and ability to connect the two parks on either side of the Providence River, said Mike McCormick, the University's assistant vice president of planning, design and construction, as well as a member of the bridge's selection committee.

As part of the selection process, the city displayed the contestants' designs in City Hall, so the public could provide feedback, which the city's Department of Planning and Development shared with the selection committee, McCormick said. Each design team's prospectus and blueprints were also posted online to Flickr.

Though the committee did not base its decisions solely on community response, the feedback they received "certainly played a role," McCormick said.

"It really engaged a lot of people in the discussion of the bridge," he said. "That's exactly what we were hoping for — to generate a lot of excitement."

A committee charged with working out the next steps in the bridge's construction — including budget and scaling of the project — may form in the coming months. The budget for the project is $4 million. Half of that is money saved from keeping the granite piers from the old I-195 highway that is undergoing relocation. An additional $2 million is needed to build the remainder of the bridge, said Lambri Zerva, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation's project manager for the Iway relocation project.

Each entry in the competition, including Inform Studio's, exceeded the budget, McCormick said. The winning design is currently estimated to cost $5 million, said Bonnie Nickerson, the city's director of long-range planning for the Department of Planning and Development.

Though RIDOT applied for a federal grant to make up the $2 million difference, the state did not receive the funding. Nickerson said the city is working with RIDOT to finalize ways to raise that revenue, which may include public-private partnerships with other businesses and institutions. The University is one potential fundraising partner, he said.

McCormick said the University has had "no specific discussions" about a possible partnership with the city or state on building the bridge, but added that it "clearly (has) an interest in the area and making sure the bridge is successful."

The funding issue might also affect how and when the bridge is built, Zerva said.

Though Nickerson said the bridge was on track for completion by early 2013, Zerva said the bridge might be complete closer to the middle of 2014. And the bridge might be built in phases, depending on how fundraising for the bridge progresses, Zerva said. Additionally, the bridge's construction must not detract from the development of the parks, he added.

Inform Studio is also working with the city and RIDOT to scale the bridge design so it fits the budget, said Michael Guthrie, a partner at Inform Studio. The firm had done a cost analysis to find ways to make the construction less expensive, coming "pretty close" to the budget in the process, Guthrie added.

One major consideration is changing the material of the bridge while maintaining the design's integrity, he said. The proposed design suggested an entire timber system, both exposed and concealed, Guthrie said, but a revised plan might make the concealed structure steel, which is less expensive.

The firm will meet with the city and RIDOT sometime this month to discuss the master plan and any attempts to cut costs.

"We want to make sure that the bridge that is ultimately built is very similar to what was presented to the selection committee and the public," Nickerson said.


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