The Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s (RIDOT) new Henderson Bridge, designed by VHB, will open in phases in November, a major milestone in the $66-million project to redesign this vital Providence-to-East Providence connector over the Seekonk River. The initiative will increase connectivity for residents in both communities with the inclusion of a bike and walking path, open land for development, and significantly reduce maintenance costs for the State.
VHB has been involved with the Henderson Bridge for two decades, performing bridge inspection, survey, structural repair, and traffic analysis work for longtime partner RIDOT beginning in 2003. Originally designed and built in 1969—part of a planned new highway to link areas east of the Seekonk River to westward points and Route 6 that was never constructed—the six-lane, 278,000-square-foot bridge was far larger than necessary. The bridge soon began to strain RIDOT resources, its large structure presenting maintenance issues and additional costs. In 1996, the Henderson Bridge was classified as structurally deficient, and multiple repair contracts were issued in the ensuing years to keep the bridge in serviceable condition.
When planning for bridge reconstruction, RIDOT turned to VHB as a trusted advisor, engaging our engineering team to develop alternatives to replace the bridge and open land for development. When RIDOT was able to secure funding to replace the bridge, it knew VHB had a working concept that could fit its budget and trusted our engineering team to deliver a complete design for the project. RIDOT hired VHB as Design Engineer for the job, and Barletta Heavy Division, Inc., constructed the project.
The new bridge reduces the current excessive six vehicle travel lanes to just three and features a separated multiuse path that connects to on-street bicycle networks on either side of the Seekonk River. At just 73,800 square feet, the new bridge is approximately a quarter of the size of the old ramp and river crossing structure, which will significantly reduce maintenance for RIDOT going forward.
VHB prioritized sustainability in the design of the new Henderson Bridge. Pier supports for the north side of the old bridge were demolished just to the river’s water level and then rebuilt to accommodate the new infrastructure, minimizing in-water construction work and reducing both construction impacts on aquatic ecosystems and project costs.
“I’ve been involved in work on the Henderson Bridge since I first started at VHB in 2007,” said Andrew Prezioso, Structures Team Leader based in VHB’s Providence office who is the Deputy Project Manager for the bridge reconstruction. “Having been part of the inspection and repair work on the old bridge for many years, seeing the new bridge being constructed has been a personal career milestone. It was an honor to get to lead VHB’s Structural team to redesign the bridge. This was an incredibly collaborative effort, with more than 30 very talented structural engineers from across VHB’s New England and Mid-Atlantic offices working to develop a complex final design on an ambitious timeline.”
Once the new bridge fully opens for traffic, RIDOT will demolish the remaining portion of the old bridge. Doing so will free a total of 33 acres in East Providence previously occupied by the old bridge structure, opening the land for new development. This will also provide access to the Seekonk River along Waterfront Drive and connect East Providence residents to both the river and the City of Providence thanks to the new bridge’s multiuse path.
Work will progress on approach roadway tie-ins at each end of the bridge, including a key central roadway roundabout in East Providence just before the Henderson Bridge approach. This ongoing approach work will complete the construction portion of Phase 1 of the project. For Phase 2, VHB will be helping RIDOT to design the reconfiguration of the Henderson Expressway, the road that leads to the bridge from East Providence. This second phase of the project will continue redesigning assets from the intended highway as community resources that provide connectivity for all modes of transportation. In 2023, VHB also partnered with RIDOT and the City of East Providence to submit a U.S. Department of Transportation Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods grant for a planning study on Phase 3 of this project, which intends to identify opportunities to extend multimodal improvements into East Providence neighborhoods.
Learn more about VHB’s bridge work with RIDOT.