(Photos from Jamestown Historical Society Collection)
Thirty years ago, on Saturday, October 17, 1992, about 40,000 people ran, walked, or strolled across the newly opened 7,350-foot-long Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge. It was a beautiful autumn day. The West Passage gleamed in the sun. More fanfare celebrated the opening of the bridge for vehicular traffic the following Monday.
The opening of the bridge culminated about 15 years of arguing, planning, construction difficulties, and legal wrangling.
Talk about replacing the old Jamestown Bridge began in the mid-1960s. The two-lane bridge, which had opened in 1940, was structurally sound, but couldn’t handle the growing traffic. The opening of the Newport Pell Bridge across the East Passage in 1969 dramatically increased the problem.
Despite the obvious need, planning did not go smoothly.
At the bridge, hoists on top of the piers slowly lifted the span into position. (JHS – P2019-110-533)
Where should a new West Passage bridge go? Routes just south of the old bridge, farther south near the South Reservoir, across Dutch Island, a tunnel, and even a return of the ferry were considered before the route just north of the old bridge was selected.
How wide should the bridge be?
The Jamestown Town Council wanted the West Passage bridge to be 54 feet wide, the same width as the Newport Pell Bridge. Senator John H. Chafee wanted 69 feet. RIDOT wanted 79 feet. The different camps compromised on 72 feet.
Should it be a steel or concrete bridge? A concrete design was chosen.
Ground was broken, and construction began in September 1985. Estimated time to complete — three years.
The groundbreaking for the Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge was September 9, 1985. (left to right) Senator John Chafee, Governor Edward DiPrete (1985-1991), Governor John Joseph Garrahy (1977-1985), Captain Edward Pare, Rhode Island Department of Transportation. (JHS – P2006-007-015)
A year later, the state discovered a miscalculation in the recommended depth for the concrete support piers. Wrangling ensued about who should pay for what. The contractor sued the state, saying the change in specs was outside the scope of the original contract. The state countersued the contractor for negligence. In March 1988, with the bridge two years behind schedule and about $80 million over budget, both parties agreed to terminate the contract.
Work stopped almost completely for over a year.
A new contract was awarded in August 1989 to Atkinson-Kiewit Joint Venture to complete the bridge for $101.5 million. Time to complete — three years. Peter Janaros was appointed Project Manager.
The final cost was approximately $161 million, more than two and a half times the 1984 estimate and, taking inflation into account, about 10 times the cost of the original 1940 Jamestown Bridge.
For more photographs of bridge construction, see the “Janaros Bridge Collection” in the Jamestown Historical Society online catalog.
Cofferdams are watertight enclosures that were pumped dry to permit the piers between the bay’s surface and the bottom of bay to be built within them. This worker is inside a cofferdam fixing leaks as the water is being pumped out in February 1989. (JHS – P2019-110-079)
Forms were built above the cofferdams and the concrete for the piers was poured and tested for strength. (JHS – P2019-110-149)
The spans for the main section of the bridge were pre-cast in Davisville and carried by barge to the bridge site. (JHS – P2019-110-348)
Thousands of steel strands within the concrete spans connected the segments into one solid structure. (JHS – P2019-110-284)
The last span was raised, and the break at the top of the bridge closed in April 1992. The finishing work of building the roadway and installing railings and barriers followed. (JHS – P2019-110-632)
Governor Bruce G. Sundlun (right) visited the workers on the bridge, helping them pour cement to close the last 6-foot gap of the bridge in the spring of 1992. (JHS – A2022-500-001)
Governor Sundlun officially opened the new bridge on October 19. (JHS – P2015-003-003)
The thousands of people who walked across the Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge on October 17, 1992, were greeted with this sign at the very top.