PROVIDENCE — It was destined for the scrap heap of Providence’s industrial history, a hulking and rusting relic jutting out of the Seekonk River.
But when the local TV station WPRI reported in 2019 that the state planned to demolish the Crook Point Bridge, which hasn’t been used as an actual bridge in decades and remains stuck in the upright position, the backlash was swift. So swift that the city of Providence said it wanted to save the ersatz landmark and repurpose it for the 21st century.
On Wednesday, after receiving dozens design submissions, the city unveiled the winning proposal.
The design would surround the area with parks, trails and a kayak launch, build new walkable piers leading up to the bridge, retrofit shipping containers into pop-up gathering spaces, and outfit the upright portion with an interactive LED light display. The winning proposal was put together by the Providence engineering firm Horsley Witten Group and Jonathan Harris, a Johnson & Wales University professor of design.
Once the place where trains rumbled across the Seekonk River, it would become a place to gather outside in the post-COVID age, when people appreciate that so much more, said Ellen Biegert, a landscape architect on the winning team.
Will it actually happen?
“That’s the plan,” Mayor Jorge Elorza told reporters who gathered at Gano Street Park to see the winning proposal unveiled in the shadow of the bridge. “There’s still a lot of hurdles. … The first step is making sure we have a plan, we have an alternative.”
An alternative, that is, to demolition. One of those hurdles, Elorza noted, was that the city does not own the space — “yet.”
“We are aware of the interest from the City of Providence and others in preserving it, as well as the design competition,” Charles St. Martin, a DOT spokesman, said Wednesday, “and we’re certainly open to discussions on the future of the bridge.”
A cost estimate and a timeline weren’t readily available, and when asked whether city, state or federal funds would likely be used for it, a city official said simply: “Yes.”
“How can we price this out?” Bonnie Nickerson, the city planning director, said. “How do we build the financial support and community support to pull it off?”
The Crook Point bridge was built more than 100 years ago, and was originally used for passenger trains until the late 1930s. From the 1940s to 1970s, it was used for freight trains, but after the decline of freight, it was abandoned.
Since then, it’s become something of a landmark, visible for commuters on I-195 and on novelty T-shirts. It now technically is owned by the Rhode Island Public Rail Corporation, whose officers are Department of Transportation staff.
The west side of the bridge is off Gano Street on Providence’s East Side. From the nearby ballfields and bike trails, the extensive graffiti on the bridge is clearly visible. East Providence is across the river, although Crook Point itself on the eastern landing is technically the city of Providence before turning into East Providence. A representative for East Providence was involved in the selection committee that picked this proposal.
The design proposal comes about two years after the completion of the Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Bridge on the Providence River. Once the site of a highway, that pedestrian bridge was built at a cost of $22 million. It took about 10 years, Nickerson said. She is hoping that the Crook Point Bascule Bridge won’t take so long.
But it will still be a major undertaking. In addition to the go-ahead from the DOT, the city would likely need to get clearance from the Coast Guard for the project.
Other design proposals would have connected the two landings on the river with pedestrian walkways. The winning design team didn’t do that. With the amount of height they’d need to get, such a walkway would have been prohibitively expensive, perhaps in the hundreds of millions of dollars, said Harris, who wore one of those Crook Point Bascule Bridge T-shirt to the unveiling event Wednesday.
“It represents the strength and the desire that the previous generations had, to build something, to create a place here in Providence,” Harris said. “This bridge aided in Providence becoming what it was. If we get rid of this part that really helped support us, we get rid of that part of history.”
“For us in Providence,” said Jonathan Ford, a civil engineer with Horsley, “the city being a little gritty is a very positive thing. It’s such a symbol of that. We want to stay Providence. And that bridge is Providence.
The winners of the contest got $10,000 from the Providence Redevelopment Agency. Abernathy Lighting Design did consultation on the winning proposal. The top finalists got $1,000 each.