2018-11-29 / Opinion

Bridge of Follies

To the Editor:

The concept of adding walking, biking and observation decks to the Pell, Jamestown-Verrazano and Mount Hope bridges is a completely ludicrous concept on its own. But moreover, given the state’s inability to maintain existing bridges and roadways even with federal funding puts these deck concepts to the point of absurdity. The idea is fiscal mismanagement and a complete disregard of the needs of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) to maintain existing bridge and toll structures that are continually stressed with funding needs.

When one does the math of even a low estimate of $25 million to build the walkways (note without the West Pell Tower Observation Deck elevators, et al), which are free, where is the revenue stream to cover these walkway projects? One would have to say through increased taxes since the new structures will not be covered by RITBA toll exchanges. So, we annex the Pell Bridge with a free walkway and for what, as it will be used approximately 60 percent of the year? After all, does anyone want to be on the bridge from mid-November through say April 1, with the howling wind off the cold water? I don’t think so.

Therefore you need to look at the revenue stream from tourism; after all, as a native, once you have done it so be it. How do you convince the tourist to get there? Yes, marketing. But why go to the bridge(s) with so much more to see on the ground level, which is walkable from the heart of Newport and not some northern extension.

Finally, there is the financial component. Yes, parks and wildlife sanctuaries are important and do not necessarily create revenue; however this is not about preservation. With $25 million at the minimum to build the walkways, it would require 30,000 visitors a year to the West Tower lift (not financed in the pro forma) with a viewing deck fee of, say, $20 a visit. Assuming no inflation, it would take 41 years to pay off the expense. This figure does not cover even maintenance costs, which would only rise.

Remember, the budget outlay was $25 million to $50 million to do the project so the income figures recited are extremely conservative and optimistic vis-à-vis the expense. Now, needs outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act needs, how would one get a disabled person three-quarters of a mile up the bridge to the tower viewing platform that they would be so entitled to have access to? So what is the reasoning? As stated in the media, so some bureaucrat can cut the ribbon and “own” the project with the repercussions being absorbed down the road by some other bureaucrat to clean up the debacle once the financial failure materializes. Do 38 Studios or the “Cooler and Warmer” slogan come to mind? Good effort.

Andrew Kristiansson

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