Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge
|Carries||Four lanes of Route 138|
|Locale||Between Jamestown and Newport, Rhode Island|
|Official name||Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge|
|Maintained by||Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority|
|Design||Suspension bridge with deck truss approaches|
|Total length||11,248 ft (3,428 m)|
|Width||48 ft (15 m)|
|Height||400 ft (120 m)|
|Longest span||1,600 ft (490 m)|
|Clearance below||206 ft (63 m) at mid-span|
|Opened||June 28, 1969|
|Toll||Cars $4.00 per car both ways|
The Claiborne Pell Bridge, commonly known as the Newport Bridge, is a suspension bridge operated by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority that spans the East Passage of the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island (northeastern United States). The bridge, part of RI 138, connects the City of Newport on Aquidneck Island and the Town of Jamestown on Conanicut Island, and is named for longtime Rhode Island U.S. senator Claiborne Pell who lived in Newport. The Pell Bridge is in turn connected to the mainland by the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge.
The main span of the Newport Bridge is 488 metres (1,601 ft), ranking it number 87 among the longest suspension bridges in the world, and making it the longest suspension bridge in New England. The overall length of the bridge is 3,428 meters (11,247 ft). Its main towers reach 122 meters (400 ft) above the water surface, and the roadway height reaches as high as 66 meters (215 ft). It is four lanes wide, two in each direction. On a clear day, the bridge's towers are visible from the observation plaza at the Gay Head Light in Aquinnah on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard, from the upper floors of skyscrapers in Providence (approximately 22 miles), and as far northwest as the parking lot of Stone Hill Marketplace in Johnston, RI (approximately 23 miles) and Interstate 295 south in Smithfield north of U.S. Route 44. The Providence skyline is likewise visible from the bridge deck.
The Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge is a toll bridge, and the cash toll is US$4.00 for cars (as of 2015).
From its opening in 1969 until 2009, the toll could be paid by cash or with tokens, which were purchased at the RIBTA office in Jamestown. E-ZPass was introduced as a toll payment in 2008. Shortly thereafter, the tokens were phased out as a form of toll payment. The final day that tokens were accepted on the bridge was December 31, 2009. Following that date, the only accepted forms of payment were cash or E-ZPass.
Rhode Island residents with a Rhode Island E-ZPass pay a discounted toll of only 83 cents once they sign up for the RIR-RI Resident Discount Plan. Early in 2012, the Authority had voted to raise tolls for passenger vehicles to $5. However, on June 15, 2012 this plan was abolished as Rhode Island lawmakers approved tolls to be added to the newly built Sakonnet River Bridge in the future. The bridge also charges a fee equal to the toll for improperly mounted E-ZPass transponders that require a toll-booth operator to manually raise the gate. Out-of-state residents pay full price, even with a Rhode Island E-ZPass, making this bridge the only toll facility in the U.S. to give a residence discount that isn't limited to the adjacent neighborhoods. The bridge was the only toll road in Rhode Island until August 19, 2013, when the Authority began collecting tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge. However, toll collection on that bridge ended on June 20, 2014.
The bridge opened June 28, 1969 with ceremonies, celebration and fanfare.
The first time that runners were allowed over the bridge was when a group of 300 runners ran over in the early 1980s in a half-marathon for Save The Bay. In the fall of 2011, the inaugural Citizens Bank Newport Pell Bridge Run was held which marked the first time in recent history that runners were allowed to cross the bridge (which was closed to traffic).
Introduction of E-ZPass
In the spring of 2012, the Bridge Authority brought Open Road Tolling to the Pell bridge, allowing drivers with E-ZPass to pass through a special E-ZPass only toll lane at 40 mph. Violators are subject to a $10 fine, on top of the unpaid toll. The new lanes opened to traffic on June 22, in time for the America's Cup sailing race being held in Newport. Prior to the establishment of the E-ZPass system of toll collection, toll discounts were available to the general population through the use of tokens. A roll of 9 bridge crossing tokens could be purchased for $10 (plus one free crossing) bringing the effective price per crossing $1, available to anyone. Establishment of the E-ZPass system and elimination of tokens also eliminated discounts for non-residents.
In June 2019, a series of events were held to mark the 50th anniversary of the bridge. On June 28, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on the lawn of nearby Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina. In attendance were Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Zechariah Chafee, son of the late Governor John Chafee, former Governor Donald Carcieri, Dallas Pell, daughter of late Senator Claiborne Pell, and Rep. David Cicilline. The ceremony included a U.S. Coast Guard flyover salute, a fireboat shooting water into the air, and two ribbon-cuttings. In addition, concerts were scheduled for Fort Adams State Park, along with cruises, fireworks, and other events. A documentary on the construction and history of the bridge, titled The Newport Bridge: A Rhode Island Icon, debuted on Rhode Island PBS on December 4.
Impact on the region
The building of the bridge changed Conanicut Island's lifestyle and economy significantly. Before the bridge, Jamestown was a "summer-resident town" accessible only by ferry on the east passage side and the Jamestown Bridge from the mainland over the west passage, in which one-third of the residents owned summer homes. After the bridge it has become a more wealthy community whose residents now commute to jobs and opportunities in neighboring towns. At the same time, the island's local commerce became more dependent on tourism by visitors from off-island.
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