Aging Hussey Bridge to See Repairs in Next Two Years
The 87-year-old bridge will be undergoing major work in the next two years.
The arched, 84-foot-long Clarence L. Hussey Bridge has offered a graceful silhouette to the skyline of Wickford Village for the past 87 years. Despite its picturesque quality, up close the bridge shows the wears of its 87 years as peeling paint and rust adorn its facade.
According to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the aging bridge will be getting a facelift in the next two years. Repairs to the deck, sidewalks, arches, steel hangars, railings and even a fresh coat of paint are expected to only be a year or two away.
It's been a long road for State Senator James Sheehan (D - Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) who has spent much of the past decade urging DOT officials to repair the bridge – which has shown signs of deterioration and lack of regular maintenance. Sheehan said the announcement from DOT is "good news and proof that perseverance pays off."
"[The Hussey Bridge] is part and parcel of the beauty and charm of a village enjoyed by residents adn tourists alike, and a structure that plays a vital role in the economic well-being of the community," said Sheehan.
In early 2001, the DOT first announced that construction and rehabilitation of the aging bridge would begin in 2005. Then, the start date was postponed until 2007. Before construction could begin, the project was again delayed due to other bridges around the state that were in critical need of structural repairs.
According to Sheehan, DOT Director Michael Lewis said that the bridge's historic nature will require extensive review of the repair plans by historic preservation organizations before work can commence.
Thus far, nothing in the plans will alter the bridge’s arch design, built with reinforced concrete using hangers made of steel rods embedded in wrought-iron pipes and caulked in bitumen.
Reinforced concrete was the signature building material of the bridge’s designer, Clarence L. Hussey. According to an account in “The View from Swamptown” by local historian Tim Cranston, in 1912, “Hussey was a hot shot engineer, straight out of M.I.T, when he was hired on by RI as its first state bridge engineer.”
According to Cranston, Hussey began by photographing every bridge in Rhode Island, creating a unique and acclaimed 45,000-image collection now housed in the state archives.
Hussey designed and oversaw construction of a number of state bridges, many still standing. The 38-foot wide replacement for what had been known as the Hamilton Bridge – because it connected Wickford to the Hamilton Mill – was his last. When Hussey died in 1925 at the age of 42, state officials decided to make the bridge his namesake.
Despite Hussey’s meticulous records, rumors abounded that no one else knew how he mixed concrete, or would be able to continue building what The New York Times described as “strong, cheap bridges.” Hussey’s Times obituary was headlined, “Dead Bridge Engineer’s Formula May Remain a Secret.”