Rhode Island’s Mount Hope Bridge Is Both Terrifying and an Engineering Marvel

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Mount Hope Bridge at dusk in Rhode Island.

Showcasing the financial, industrial, and political power of the state of Rhode Island is the Mount Hope Bridge, an engineering marvel built in the late-1920s. If you’ve never ventured across the 6,130 feet connecting Bristol to Portsmouth, it’s something you’ll want to do the next time you travel to the Northeast.

Let’s learn more about the Mount Hope Bridge and its historical significance.

About the Mount Hope Bridge

Legislators from Bristol, R.I., advocated constructing a bridge to replace the ferry between Bristol and Portsmouth. But the State wasn’t sure the cost of a bridge was worth it at the time.

So, the state established the legislation but created the New Hope Bridge Company to be the private owners of the bridge. By creating a private company, the state handed over the maintenance and toll collecting to a private company, a safer alternative to government investing.

An Aerial Look At The Mount Hope Bridge | Rhode Island Drone Video

Location

Those traveling between Bristol and Portsmouth along Route 114 in Rhode Island are very familiar with the Mount Hope Bridge. It spans 6,130 feet across a narrow portion of Narragansett Bay and connects the two cities. Mount Hope Bay is to the east of the bridge.

Construction and Design

Construction began on December 1, 1927, but four months later, the wire-cable suspension bridge was deemed structurally unsound and had to be taken apart and rebuilt. On October 24, 1929, the first cars traveled over the Mount Hope Bridge.

Painted green, the architects designed the bridge to blend in with the natural surroundings. Its recognizable towers measure 285 feet.

Traveler’s Tip: Experience the marvelous natural wonder that is Purgatory Chasm in Rhode Island.

How Old Is the Mount Hope Bridge?

It took almost two years for the completion of the construction. And when the bridge opened in 1929, it was only five days later that the stock market crashed and the world entered the Great Depression.

Mount Hope Bridge is a suspension bridge over the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.

As a result, the New Hope Bridge Company fell into receivership by 1931. Rudolf F. Haffenreffer purchased it. He remained the owner of the bridge and the bridge company until the 1950s, when the state of Rhode Island purchased it after it fell into receivership again. In 2019, the state celebrated the bridge’s 90th birthday.

How Long Is the Mount Hope Bridge?

It was once the longest suspension bridge in New England. Now that title belongs to the Claiborne/Newport Pell Bridge that connects Newport to Jamestown about 12 miles south of the Mount Hope Bridge.

The main span is 1,200 feet between the two massive towers, but the overall length is 6,130 feet. In comparison, the Claiborne/Newport Pell Bridge measures 11,247 feet in length.

What Makes Mount Hope Bridge an Engineering Marvel? 

The Mount Hope Bridge captures the art deco architecture and the advanced engineering and industrial age of the 1920s. Two main cables keep the bridge deck up, two huge towers that raise 285 into the air, and two massive concrete blocks anchor the cables at the ends of the bridge.

Two towers painted green with cables stretching between them on the bridge across the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.

Considering this bridge was built in the 1920s when the government was just starting to set forth highway legislation to keep up with the urbanization of America, it’s an engineering marvel that man completed such a feat.

Is the Bridge Safe? 

When it was first built, it was not safe and the state had to rebuild it. However, today construction is constant to keep it in tip-top shape. Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) monitors it and is subject to numerous engineering inspections and analyses. 

The two lanes go down to one lane for the entire length of the bridge whenever work is in progress. Although this may be an inconvenience for locals, the constant repair keeps Mount Hope Bridge structurally sound and safe for the 15,000 cars that pass over it every day.

However, recently the RITBA has applied for grants to help with the growing concern of corrosion on the cables. The RITBA wants to use a cable dehumidification technology to combat the increasing humidity, accelerating the wires’ corrosion process.

If the cables aren’t protected, the entire bridge may have to be reconstructed, which could cost up to $1 billion. At the very least, it could cost $300 million to supplement wires with parallel cables.

How Much Is the Toll? 

The $5 million bridge was going to be paid for by tolls. Initially, people paid 60 cents one way and $1 round-trip. This is one reason the company went into receivership — no one could afford the tolls during the Great Depression.

Later the toll was dropped to 30 cents one way when the state of Rhode Island purchased the bridge in 1954. Even later, in 1998, the toll completely dropped. Between 1998 and 2004, the bridge underwent $15 million in renovations.

Is the Mount Hope Bridge Worth Driving? 

The Mount Hope Bridge is not only a piece of beautiful architecture but also a piece of history. It was on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Just think: as you drive across this masterpiece, you’re joining billions of other Americans who have taken that same route since 1929.

If you haven’t crossed over from Bristol to Portsmouth, make plans to do so the next time you’re in Rhode Island. Even a detour is worth taking the 6,130-foot journey to enjoy the beauty of Narragansett Bay.

When will you join history and travel the Mount Hope Bridge?

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1 comment
  1. I have never seen an actual engineering study saying a new bridge would cost $1 billion.

    Maybe $5-600 million would be a better estimate. If it was going to be $1 billion a tunnel would be cheaper.

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