Cliff Walk repairs become top priority for state

Hurricane Sandy did a tremendous amount of damage to the famous Cliff Walk in Newport.

And according to the Cliff Walk Commission, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation said fixing the famous walkway back to its pre-storm status is a top priority for the state.

Robert Power, Chair of the Newport Cliff Walk Commission said he knows how crucial the Cliff Walk is to the local tax base in Newport and across the state.

"I think that people don't realize that the Cliff Walk is the largest tourist attraction in Rhode Island. 750,000 people a year are going on that walkway" Power said.

Scott Wheeler, City of Newport's Building and Grounds Supervisor and a member of the Cliff Walk Commission agrees. "Without the Cliff Walk, you know, I think the state of Rhode Island would lose one of its primary draws. It really is just a treasure that's unmatched in New England."

And because the three and a half mile stretch of ocean front walkway is so important, the Cliff Walk Commission meets every month, regardless of the season.

The group works with the City of Newport, the Rhode Island State D.O.T. and even local mansion owners to keep the popular tourist attraction up and running.

But this year, that task is especially daunting. That's because Hurricane Sandy destroyed parts of the Cliff Walk.

Despite the setback, the Cliff Walk Commission is trying to look on the bright side.

Power said, "(The damage from) Hurricane Sandy has almost given us an opportunity to make it a better experience for everybody."

And making that walk a 'better experience' means fixing damage that makes the walk unsafe, or impassable.

Wheeler said, "The city has been working to coordinate the repairs to the Cliff Walk with Rhode Island D.O.T. The pre-bid has been held, and I believe we're anticipating, or I believe that Rhode Island D.O.T., rather, is anticipating those bids back shortly."

The Cliff Walk Commission members said the most common question they face these days from the public is: 'When will it be finished?'

Wheeler said, "It is a very large project, but the D.O.T. has really been putting a focus on expediting this process, and getting it done as quickly as possible. It's a very aggressive timeline, and we do anticipate that by the end of 2013 the Cliff Walk will be fully restored, but I really encourage you to check with Rhode Island D.O.T. to be sure as far as the exact timeline."

The commission members that NBC 10 spoke with each agree the goal is to have a better, stronger Newport Cliff Walk, in the end.

"We do have a series of improvements planned. Things like the armor stone that we talked about at the meeting, which is large stones to be placed, you know, in the ocean, configured and locked together which stops some of the wave action from eroding. Also, things like cement walkways where we had stone dust before so it doesn't wash out," Power said.

Some commission members said they are truly pleased at the speed with which the massive walkway project is progressing.

"Am I impressed? Yes. Very impressed. The last project was four and a half million dollars worth of work, and it took us four or five years to get that project together and get rolling, and get it done. This project is coming together within months, so that's like lightning speed for this project," continued Power.

Wheeler said one of the best things anyone can do to help the Cliff Walk get back to its original glory is to spread the word that it is actually open.

"It's important for people to know, the cliff walk is open for business. The portion of the Cliff Walk that's the most visited, the part that gets the most visitors, the northern portion, starting at Easton's Beach and Memorial Boulevard extending to Ruggles Avenue at Breakers, its open. It's going to stay open, and we're going to have a beautiful summer,"said Wheeler