RI Delegation Announces Major $82.5 Million Grant to Upgrade Iconic Pell Bridge

Renovations will extend life of Pell Bridge by up to an additional 75 years


Providence, RI – U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline today announced an $82.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s INFRA Grant Program to upgrade the iconic Pell Bridge that connects Newport and Jamestown.  Planned improvements to the deck, suspension system, and towers will extend the life of New England’s longest suspension bridge by an additional 50 to 75 years.


“The Newport Pell Bridge is a critical asset that gets a lot of wear and tear from traffic and the elements.  We must take proper care of it and that means proactive planning and maintenance.  I was pleased to help kick-start the bridge ramp realignment project with a $20 million federal grant in 2018.  This new INFRA grant will support RITBA’s efforts to properly maintain the bridge, improve safety, and extend its lifespan,” said Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) who worked with his colleagues to include $7.25 billion for competitive INFRA grants and $7.5 billion for competitive Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.


“I helped create the INFRA program to meet the need for major, once-in-a-generation investments like rebuilding the Pell Bridge,” said Whitehouse, who authored the INFRA Program in 2015 to help meet Rhode Island’s need for large-scale infrastructure investments.  “The Pell Bridge is the Ocean State’s most iconic landmark, and we will be able to keep it that way for at least an additional half century thanks to this enormous federal grant.  There is much to be done to bring the bridge into the twenty-first century.” 


“The Pell Bridge is one of Rhode Island’s most iconic landmarks, and it’s also an integral piece of our infrastructure. Connecting Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands, the bridge carries tens of thousands of passengers over Narragansett Bay each day.  It’s critical that Rhode Islanders and tourists alike can make that journey safely and efficiently,” said Congressman Langevin.  “I am thrilled that funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will allow us to keep the Pell Bridge in pristine condition.”


“The Pell Bridge isn’t just critical infrastructure for Rhode Islanders, it’s an icon that has earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places,” said Congressman Cicilline.  “To ensure that this resource is available to Rhode Islanders and visitors for years to come, we need to invest in and modernize the bridge now so that we can return it to a state of good repair while reducing long-term costs and improving safety.  The Pell Bridge is a prime example of the types of projects that the bipartisan infrastructure law was designed to support and fund.  I’m looking forward to an extended, long life for this Rhode Island icon.”


The project will include a partial depth replacement and rehabilitation of the bridge deck in the main suspended and west approach spans.  Climate change has led to more severe storms and more frequent use of salt and other treatments to make the road safe for travel, accelerating the loss of pavement quality.  The new pavement will be made of a denser material that is more resistant to the effects of chemical deterioration.


Increased humidity from climate change is also accelerating the need to repair the main cables, suspenders, and other elements of the suspension system.  While the cables and suspenders are currently safe, inspection data points to an accelerating pace of deterioration.  The funding will be used to install a de-humidification system to reduce moisture levels within the cables and anchorages, and halt the corrosion process.  The suspender ropes and other elements will be replaced when needed, helping preserve the main cable for an additional 75 years of useful life.


Funding will also be used to repair the tower elevators, replace the finger joints that accommodate movement in the bridge, and repaint the towers.  Acoustic monitoring will provide data on the bridge’s condition and additional cameras and sensors will provide greater physical security.


“The Newport Pell Bridge serves as a vital connector for health care services, education, mutual aid among public safety departments, access to jobs, work sites and housing, and as a connector for commuters between the Greater Providence area and Newport County,” said Governor Dan McKee.  “This critical grant will help us protect the iconic Newport Pell Bridge from climate change while the completion of the bridge decking and painting of the towers will return the bridge to a state of good repair – bettering the lives of Rhode Islanders and the industries that support our state.  I thank our Congressional Delegation for securing this funding from the Biden Administration.”


The Pell Bridge opened in 1969 and was dedicated in honor of the late U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell.  The bridge, which carries four lanes of traffic across Narragansett Bay, is operated by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority.


“Governor McKee and his administration have coordinated the state’s approach to infrastructure, which puts Rhode Island in a strong place to compete for significant federal grants like this INFRA grant.  Our Congressional Delegation has shown once again that Rhode Island punches well above its weight,” said Lori Caron Silveira, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority.  “This investment from the U.S. Department of Transportation will accelerate and expand planned maintenance and extend the life of the iconic Newport Pell Bridge by an additional 50 to 75 years.  With collaboration across state government, leadership from our federal team, and support from private sector partners and organized labor, we are confident that this is only the beginning.”


In 2018, the delegation secured $20 million in federal funding to upgrade the ramps leading from Aquidneck Island to the Pell Bridge.


The bipartisan infrastructure law passed late last year included $7.25 billion for the INFRA program over five years.  First authorized in 2015 as the FASTLANE grant program, the INFRA discretionary grant program provides funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for large-scale highway and multimodal projects that might otherwise stall without additional federal support.  Rhode Island previously received a $60.3 million INFRA grant to rebuild the Northbound Providence Viaduct and a $65 million INFRA grant to overhaul Route 146.