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Wanna buy a bridge? (for free)

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Sakonnet rail bridge could be yours

If the state can't find a party to move, restore and preserve it for public use, it will demolish the structure, which was built in 1899.

BY MICHAEL P. McKINNEY Journal Staff Writer | January 14, 2005

TIVERTON - It's shapely, has nice metalwork, exudes mystery in the fog. And it was a real swinger back in the day.

Consider the chance of a lifetime: the old Sakonnet River Railroad Bridge could be yours. For free.

No, not really for free. There is no price on the bridge itself, but state transportation officials will expect an interested person, organization or community to show it has the finances to move the bridge, restore it and maintain it for safe public use. That means coming up with a surety bond, a trust fund, or something else. Then there is the engineering work and consulting experts.

In an ad tucked quietly onto page A9 of The Journal Wednesday, the state Department of Transportation asked for written proposals "to relocate, rehabilitate, use and maintain" the bridge. It is no anomaly: Under federal rules, bridges that qualify for placement on the National Register of Historic Places must be advertised for possible relocation and rehabilitation opportunities, said Edward S. Szymanski, associate chief engineer at the Department of Transportation's Office of Environmental Programs.

Rhode Island has run want-a-bridge? ads for other spans before.

The railroad bridge, which includes a span designed to swing horizontally to let boats through, hasn't seen much action lately. The Coast Guard has deemed it a navigation hazard "and we are required to move it out of the way," Szymanski said.

Candidates for moving the bridge will need to hire someone to come up with plans showing where the bridge would go and to design concrete structures, called an abutment, to support the bridge in its new home. The finances and the engineering are subject to the Transportation Department's review. Proposals are being accepted until March 1, and a review period would follow.

"If a number of individuals come in with plans, we will evaluate them. If only one person comes in, we will sit down with that individual," said Szymanski. "We don't have the luxury of delaying the project. If someone has a plan, then we will work closely with them to utilize all of the information we have."

If no proposals work out, Szymanski said, the Transportation Department will have to demolish it. He said the department hopes to begin work to remove the bridge in the summer.

People shopping for a bridge must know their own limitations. The railroad bridge's dimensions demand more than a couple of able-bodied people and a pickup truck to move. One bridge span is 105 feet long. The other span, designed to swing horizontally along a central axis, comes in at 251 feet long. Both spans are 29 feet wide.

"The bridge right now is swung in the open position so the boats can get through," said Szymanski.

The bridge's swinging days will be over. Whether the bridge is relocated or the state demolishes it -- demolition is estimated to cost $235,000 -- a "phosphor bronze bearing," which allowed it to swivel, will be removed. The bearing, a kind of center support, will go to the Portsmouth Historical Society.

The sales pitch for the bridge is something less breathless than that of, say, a car salesman's. "The Sakonnet River Railroad Bridge is historically significant as a fine example of advanced truss technology with complex mechanical components," the ad says. The bridge was fabricated by the Pennsylvania Steel Co., which the Transportation Department ad calls "a nationally prominent" bridge building firm.

Built in 1899, according to the Transportation Department, the bridge had carried the Old Colony & Newport Railroad line over the Sakonnet River, between Portsmouth and Tiverton. On June 7, 2000, federal officials and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission found the bridge eligible for listing on the National Register.

Szymanski is realistic. "This is a very large bridge, We don't expect that there are a lot of people out there that would have use for this size bridge," Szymanski said. Other bridges, which have been moved within the state, tended to be smaller. What was once a bridge for one use is sometimes converted to a bridge for other kinds of vehicles or for pedestrians.

But he is also hopeful -- one person had already contacted him about getting more information.

"We would like to see the bridge continue to serve a useful purpose," said Szymanski.

Written proposals for the bridge should go to the attention of Mr. Edward S. Szymanski, P.E., associate chief engineer at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, Office of Environmental Programs, Two Capitol Hill, Room 362, Providence 02903-1124. Or call (401) 222-2492, ext. 4253.

From The Providence Journal

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Maybe a corporate sponsor, could be the Pepsi or BudLight bridge with a mural painted across it ;)

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