Planes, Trains and Automobiles!
Everything you need to know to get around in Rhode Island.
THE 6-10 CONUNDRUM
Surface-level boulevard? Big Dig-style capped highway? Nah, no time for that. The most structurally deficient roadway in the most structurally deficient state in the nation needed help, fast. After months of quibbling, the city of Providence and the governor’s office landed on a compromise. (Props to Transport Providence, Fix the 6-10 Coalition and Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition for keeping their eyes on the project.) The revised plan, a four-year, $400 million endeavor that will break ground this fall, includes a much-needed direct connection from Route 10 North onto Route 6 West, resulting in a less-congested Olneyville Square; a mile and a half of new bike paths; a shortened Huntington Viaduct; the elimination of the scary Harris Avenue crossing; and the retirement of the Plainfield Street onramp.
STATE OF DISREPAIR
Why are Rhode Island Bridges so Terrible?
By Ellen Liberman
Clarence L. Hussey was the state’s first official bridge engineer and his namesake — the concrete and steel-arch span over Wickford Cove — was his last project. Just as the Hussey Bridge transformed Wickford by connecting the village to the Hamilton section of the town, he also transformed the state’s bridge building. A newly minted graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he brought a scientific approach to the enterprise, taking a complete inventory documented in more than 40,000 photographs, prioritizing repairs and lavishly applying his favorite building material: concrete.
More than ninety years after the Hussey Bridge was completed, Rhode Island’s bridges and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) method of keeping them safe and in good repair has come full circle. With 56 percent of the state’s 1,162 bridges structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, Rhode Island ranks dead last in the nation in overall bridge condition.
“I think, basically, it was years of DOT having poor management, poor planning, poor finances and poor execution delivery,” says DOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. “It’s the responsibility of the leadership at DOT to graphically demonstrate the need, and provide a plan on which that need can be addressed, to convince the legislature to invest in it, and I don’t think they saw it.”
Enter RhodeWorks, a $4.7 billion, ten-year plan to — among other things — return 90 percent of the state’s bridges to structural sufficiency by 2025. While everyone from former Republican Governor Donald Carcieri to Democratic Socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders agreed that the state’s bridges were in desperate need of repair, there was decidedly less harmony on how to finance this ambitious goal. The most vigorously contested aspect of the 2015 legislation is the implementation of commercial truck tolls on highway bridges to fund bridge construction. In the near term, the DOT refinanced existing bonds to free up $129 million in federal funds and has issued $300 million in new bonds to support a surge of bridge building in the first five years.
Less debated, but more important, says Alviti, is the radical re-organization of the DOT under RhodeWorks. No longer are projects atomized into planning, engineering and construction divisions. There’s one budget, one schedule and one project manager to see that neither is violated without good cause.
The No Truck Tolls bumper stickers haven’t yet curled at the edges, and the DOT has already rolled out $174 million in projects since 2016, including repairs to thirty-five bridges. The Hussey Bridge was the first. Finished eight months ahead of schedule, the extensive, $3.2 million renovations included restoration of the concrete on the arches, where the rebar inside had rotted, replacement of the steel railings, swapping out the rivets for bolts and new LED lights in the historically accurate light globes. The perfect historical symmetry, not to mention state-of-the-art engineering, wouldn’t be lost on Clarence L. Hussey.
BY THE NUMBERS
203 – Total number of signs
$135 – The estimated cost per sign
5 – The number of signs with yellow dots (behind schedule by less than six months)
6 – The number of signs with red dots (behind schedule by more than six months) Source: RIDOT
$6,018,280 – Newport/Pell Bridge vehicle fares paid with cash in FY 2016
$13,353,732 – Newport/Pell Bridge vehicle fares paid with EZ Pass in FY 2016
$8,278,663 – The amount of unpaid Newport/Pell Bridge tolls sent to collections in FY 2016
306 days – How long the ill-fated Sakonnet River Bridge toll was in operation
$20 – Cost to cross the state in any direction
$40 – Daily maximum to cross the state
14 – Projected number of tolling gantries
$4.4 million – Projected annual operating cost
$38 million – Cost to erect the tolling gantries
$45 million – How much the state expects to raise annually in truck tolls
60% – The percentage of anticipated revenue from out-of-state truckers Sources: Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority/RIDOT
SURVIVING THE APPONATOR
Going Round and Round in Circles.
By Sarah Francis
The Apponaug Circulator (not a rotary, thank you DOT for clarifying) has been under construction for what seems like forever, but is, in fact, a little more than two years old. This is the state’s $71 million, two-mile effort (sometimes known not very affectionately as the Apponator) to liberate marooned Apponaug Village from the 24,000 cars that zoom around it in a circular cloud of dust and squealing tires every day. The project is scheduled to wrap up around the time we’ll be colonizing Mars, at least that’s what local merchants, who’ve been living through the mess and confusion, are probably thinking.
The DOT has posted a drivers’ tutorial on the Circulator, with fun facts such as: “a single-lane roundabout only has eight ‘points of conflict’ where a crash could occur. Typical intersections have thirty-two.” Who knew?
Apponaug now has four of these roundabouts, and they were finally open for business one rainy day in November. I’m proud to announce it only took me three attempts before I successfully navigated all of them, past the Warwick Fire Department, heading south down Post Road instead of careening off towards the wilds of West Warwick. (In my defense, even my GPS hadn’t figured it out.)
Kenneth Rudman, a local dentist who’s had a bird’s eye view during the construction, helpfully noted on his outdoor office sign, “Burger King is open — if you can find it!”
It’s that typical can-do attitude we expect from Rhode Islanders. So even though I’ve heard there’s a fifth roundabout still to come later this year, fear not, fellow drivers. If I can survive the Apponator, we all can.
TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME
These scenic drives get you from A to B.
Country Roads to Sand and Surf On hot days, this leafy route offers a laidback alternative to beach traffic, especially if you’re headed to Ninigret Park, Quonnie or Misquamicut. Take Route 4 South to exit 5A and onto Route 102. Make a left onto Route 2 and pass Schartner Farms, where you should, without shame, pick up a piping-hot order of curly fries for the road. Along the route, you’ll see marshlands and working farms beneath a canopy of trees. In Charlestown, Route 2 merges with Route 112 then abruptly ends at Route 1, mere minutes from the state’s southernmost beaches.
Culture Vulture Detour When 95 North’s a mess, hop off on exit 20. Head east over the Point Street Bridge, then make a left onto historic Benefit Street. Your detour cuts through College Hill, which buzzes with brainpower from Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University. Admire the historic homes and the well-heeled hipsters, graze on healthful snacks at Benefit Street Juice Bar or make intellectual pit stops at the Providence Athenaeum and the RISD Museum. Then, follow Benefit to North Main Street and make a left on Branch Avenue. From there, you’ll rejoin 95 above the mayhem.
Small Town USA to Gilded Glory Route 114 is a favorite amongst Newport Bridge toll-dodgers. Head east on I-195 to exit 7, where you’ll pick up the route in East Providence. Then, traipse through the sweet waterside towns of Barrington, Warren and Bristol. Coast over the stunning Mount Hope Bridge — an adrenaline rush if we’ve ever felt one — and arrive on the northern tip of Aquidneck Island. A short drive through pastoral Portsmouth and busy Middletown lands you on Broadway in Newport.