DXMachina (dxmachina) wrote,

It's Obstructing My View of Dutch Island

The first time I ever saw the Jamestown Bridge was in the summer of '75. My wife and I decided to take a break from apartment hunting in South County to see what the big deal about Newport was. As we drove down the hill on Rt. 138 towards the west channel of Narragansett Bay, we were confronted with one of the scariest things I've ever seen.

The approach to the bridge was dead straight, so all we could see in front of us was a long, extremely narrow, undivided causeway leading to an impossibly steep ramp that then climbed up way up in the air to a rickety-looking main span that seemd to teeter precariously at the top.

It looked like an Erector Set contraption put together by the child of a giant. Worse, when we got to the top, the roadbed changed from severely potholed concrete to a slick metal grate. You could look down through the grate and see the frelling water (what seemed like) miles below. That was followed by another impossibly steep ramp down to the Jamestown side, where we resisted the urge to get out and kiss the ground. Then we remembered that sooner or later we had to go back.

I eventually did get used to driving over the bridge. I even rode over it on my bike once. It seemed like a good idea at the time. There was, after all, a sidewalk on each side of the roadway that I could ride on. The sidewalks were popular sites with fishermen. When I got to the causeway, though, I noticed two things. First, the sidewalks were, like everything else on the bridge, really narrow. Second, the railing that would keep me on the bridge should a sudden gust of wind push me to the side was really low. Still, there was a little voice in the back of my mind saying, "You're not scared, are ya?"

Nope! Not me! (Also, this was in that awkward period immediately after I'd quit grad school, but had no job yet, so really, what did I have to live for?) I decided to hazard the causeway. I tried to stay as far right as possible, but there was no shoulder, so I rode in traffic. Fortunately, there wasn't much of it, being the middle of a weekday in the early spring. Of course, that just made it easier for the cars that were on the bridge to zoom by at fifty miles an hour. That was intimidating enough on the causeway, but when I started up the ramp I decided that the better part of valor would be to walk the bike up the sidewalk to the top, rather than present myself as a wobbling, slow-moving target. Plus, you know, really steep.

Have I mentioned yet that I have a problem with heights?

So, there I was, trudging up the ramp, trying not to look over at the great open space to my right, and totally questioning my own sanity. Finally, I reached the top, and now that I was within the lattice work, I actually felt a little safer. Or at least I did until some frelling yahoo honked his horn behind me as I was peacefully looking out at the scenery. I damn near leapt over the rail. I decided it was time to move on, and at the next good sized break in traffic, I got back on the bike, and hurtled down the ramp to Jamestown, where I spent the next few hours riding about while getting up the courage for the return trip.

In 1986, they started building a replacement (designed by I.M. Pei) for the old bridge. I was commuting across the bridge most days to my teaching job up in Bristol, so I got to see what progress they were making. It turned out that there wouldn't be much for a long time due to the gross incompetence of both RI DOT and the original contractor. It was six years before the new bridge was finally finished, and the old one closed.

The Coast Guard, insisting that the old bridge was a hazard to navigation, wanted it to come down. The state, however, didn't want to spend the money to demolish it. Plans offered up to turn the old bridge into a combination bike path and fishing pier kept getting quashed by the folks who lived near the bridge, mostly because that sort of activity attracted the "wrong sort of people." (Many of the people who fished off the bridge were of Southeast Asian extraction. Plus, they lived in Providence.) Also, the old bridge blocked the view south from the new bridge. Still, the state steadfastly refused to do anything about the bridge.

Until yesterday, that is. They blew it up.

There are some videos at the site I linked to above (which is also where I grabbed the photos from). I am boggled by the fact that it only took 75 pounds total of RDX to accomplish the deed.
Tags: reminiscence, rhodianna

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