Since the old Interstate-195 overpass was demolished this year, the slice of Providence that emerged from the old highway’s shadow has become a somewhat tranquil, park-like place.
But design work on the string of real parks and a river-spanning pedestrian bridge in the old highway’s footsteps that officials hope will repopulate and re-energize the centrally located area are now on hold.
In one of its first significant acts since forming this fall, the state I-195 District Commission, charged with overseeing the redevelopment of the former highway lands, has halted advanced design work on the parks in order to review their size and shape.
“They’ve asked for the designing of the parks to be paused until they have a chance to re-evaluate the size and scope,” said David Freeman, head of design for the Maguire Group, the engineering firm working on the former highway land for the R.I. Department of Transportation. “Everything is on hold.”
Work on the park and bridge design has been going on for years and intensely so this past summer, so Freeman acknowledged that even the hint that the commission will order everyone back to the drawing board is nerve-wracking.
The current park plan calls for a combined 17.1 acres of new park space on both sides of the river, 2.4 acres more than federal approval of the highway-relocation project requires.
The possibility of shifting some or all of those 2.4 acres to revenue and job-producing development was one of the reasons commission members said they wanted to review the design.
Right now the designs for both the parks and the bridge are 10 percent complete, a level of detail that does not include precise drawings or finished designs for elements such as stormwater control.
Whether the “thoughtful pause,” the commission called for will substantially delay or change the parks that will ultimately be built along the river is difficult to predict.
Commission Chairman Colin Kane said he could not estimate how long the review of the park plans will take or how significant any changes to the designs will be.
“We just don’t know,” Kane said. “Honestly, radical change is a possibility, but I don’t think you will see radical change. The commission is not anti-park, but the development is not driven by the park.”