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Rhode Island demolishes landmark bridge

A landmark Rhode Island bridge was demolished Tuesday.
Explosives detonate along the 1100-foot steel center span of the old Jamestown Bridge on Tuesday in North Kingstown, R.I.
Explosives detonate along the 1100-foot steel center span of the old Jamestown Bridge on Tuesday in North Kingstown, R.I.Stew Milne / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The landmark Jamestown Bridge, which for decades served as part of a crucial link across Narragansett Bay for motorists traveling to and from Newport, was demolished Tuesday.

Explosives placed in the bridge's center span were detonated at 11 a.m., and the span plunged into the bay 135 feet below.

Before the demolition, crews removed much of the pavement on the 240-foot-high bridge and gradually weakened it by making a series of cuts through the girders. They laid 75 pounds of explosives in 350 charges at 20-foot intervals in the bridge's 1,100-foot-long center span, according to Edmund Parker, chief engineer for the Department of Transportation.

The Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge next to it was closed to traffic during the demolition, as were many streets in the area.

Before the bridge opened in 1940, Conanicut Island's only link to the rest of the state was an unreliable ferry system that often did not run in bad weather. The span was steep and narrow — at just 26 feet wide, it had only two lanes and no breakdown lane — and heavy winds could cause the bridge to shake. Some people refused to cross it.

In 1969, the Newport Bridge, now the Pell Bridge, opened between Aquidneck Island and Conanicut Island, providing the first crossing east from Conanicut. The two bridges together crossed the bay at its southern end.

The old Jamestown Bridge closed in 1992 when the sleeker, faster, taller Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge was completed beside it. It is only 100 feet away, but Parker said engineers did not expect any damage by the demolition. Just in case, they planned to check out the Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge before allowing traffic to cross it again.