A Golden Milestone: The Newport Bridge Turns 55

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Happy 55th Birthday to the Newport Bridge!

The Newport Pell Bridge stands as a significant gateway to one of America’s most beautiful and historic cities. This iconic structure, replacing a former ferry service, has been instrumental in boosting Newport’s tourism industry since its opening. Fridaymarks 55 years since this engineering marvel was officially opened.

The story of the Newport Bridge dates back to 1934 when initial plans were formulated. However, it wasn’t until after World War II that serious efforts began. In April 1948, Rhode Island established the Newport-Jamestown Civic Commission to explore financing and construction options for a bridge over the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. Construction of the approach piers commenced on April 5, 1966, with work on the tower piers and anchorages following a month later.

At a cost of $57 million, the Newport Bridge was officially opened to traffic on June 28, 1969, marked by a grand ceremony at the toll plaza, which also houses the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) headquarters. The bridge’s engineers received numerous accolades for excellence in engineering design from prestigious organizations such as the New York Association of Consulting Engineers, the Consulting Engineers Council, the American Iron and Steel Institute, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. Today, it remains the longest suspension bridge in New England.

Owned, operated, and maintained by RITBA, the bridge’s main span crosses Narragansett Bay at a length of 1,601 feet. The overall length of the bridge is 11,247 feet. The East and West towers rise 400 feet above the water surface, with the peak of the roadway deck reaching 215 feet. Rhode Island Route 138 crosses the four-lane bridge, two lanes in each direction.

In 1992, the Rhode Island legislature renamed the bridge in honor of Claiborne S. Pell, the long-serving U.S. Senator from Newport best known for sponsoring the Pell Grant, which provides financial aid to American college students. The renaming recognized Pell’s significant contributions to education and his deep connection to the region.

Senator Claiborne Pell

Toll revenue from the bridge is allocated for the payment of interest on the original construction bonds and for ongoing maintenance and repairs. Approximately 27,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily. On December 16, 2008, RITBA introduced electronic tolling with E-ZPass, allowing users to pay tolls in Rhode Island and 17 other states via transponder and an online account. Two lanes are dedicated to E-ZPass users, significantly reducing traffic congestion at the toll booths.

The Newport Bridge is not only a vital transportation link but also a beloved landmark, featured on the back of Rhode Island’s state quarter and frequently photographed by both residents and visitors.




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