12/06/2018 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – Newport’s vision for revamping the Pell Bridge ramp system got a significant boost today as U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD), announced a new $20 million federal grant to support state and local efforts to realign the Pell Bridge ramps to enhance safety, relieve traffic congestion, improve efficiency, and free up dozens of acres of land for economic development.

Senator Reed has worked for over a decade to provide federal funding to support plans to reconfigure the ramps to improve traffic flow and safety.  In the 2005 transportation law (SAFETEA-LU), Reed secured an initial $5 million earmark to help jumpstart the state and local planning process and obtain some of the rights of way needed to move the project forward to this stage.

At 11,247 feet in length, the iconic Pell Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in New England and will mark its 50th anniversary next year.  The bridge is owned and operated by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority and serves as key artery for  regional commuters, beach traffic, and military personnel travelling to and from the U.S. Naval War College.  The existing roads and on-ramps that service the bridge are in need of maintenance and the state has undertaken a comprehensive and ongoing planning assessment with public input to develop a ramp reconfiguration and re-use plan for the area that could become available.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) will receive the federal funds.  Senator Reed created and secured this pool of funding in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations law.  The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).  In its application, RIDOT estimated the overall project would cost a total of $66.1 million, with state and local contributions. 

Reed, along with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), led efforts to allocate $1.5 billion for the ‘Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development’ (BUILD) grant program, also known as the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.  BUILD funding is designed to ensure that competitive federal funding is available for transportation infrastructure projects nationwide.

“I am pleased to help deliver this federal funding for Newport and the state.  I commend Secretary Chao for recognizing the importance and potential of this project to improve safety and efficiency while spurring economic development,” said Senator Reed.  “This is an exciting investment opportunity for Newport that could really transform the gateway to the city while relieving traffic congestion and improving mobility.”

According to RIDOT: “the reconstruction of the Newport Pell Bridge Approaches is in the design phase.  The project was started to address the need to make travel into Newport easy and safe and to provide an efficient ramp system with a smaller footprint. The project will reduce congestion and vehicle queuing on the Pell Bridge and improve the connection between Newport's North End and the downtown area by reconfiguring the approach ramps to the Newport Pell Bridge. It will also spur economic development as it frees up parcels of land. For more information regarding Environmental Assessments, please visit: www.pellbridge-ea.com

In August, Senator Reed sent a letter supporting the state’s application to Secretary Chao, noting: “Besides bringing deteriorating transportation infrastructure into a state of good repair, the project will improve the flow of traffic onto several state and local roads, and it will improve safety by reducing queuing on and off the bridge.  The improvements will also improve access to Newport's world renowned tourist attractions and events, as well as to other economic centers on Aquidneck Island, including Naval Station Newport, the Naval War College, and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. Most significantly, the project will open up 30 acres of land within a recently designated opportunity zone for redevelopment by the City of Newport as the anchor for the Newport Innovation Hub.  This will be a campus for applied research and commercialization for start-up and existing innovation companies, focused on resilience, ocean, and defense technologies.”

RIDOT continues to seek public comment on the proposed project and must submit an environmental assessment to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) for approval before moving forward with preliminary work in the spring or summer of 2019.