New conceptual plan for Route 6-10 Connector gets mixed reactions

PROVIDENCE – Neighborhood and community advocates in Providence had a mix of reactions to the new conceptual plan for remaking the Route 6-10 Connector.
State and city officials say the plan will reduce the size and scale of the interchange of what now includes nine bridges, to seven bridges, physically reconnect several neighborhoods, and remove vehicle traffic from Olneyville Square. The new configuration will also create 1.5 miles of dedicated, separated bike lanes and free 5 acres of land for redevelopment by the city.
It was the result of a six-week process that state transportation and city planning officials described as collaborative. The state had initially proposed essentially a replacement of the existing corridor of bridges and highways connecting the downtown to the suburban areas west, south and north of the city. The city had initially wanted a corridor with multiple new exits into and connections among the neighborhoods.
Asked for initial reactions, several activists and Providence nonprofit leaders said they were relieved that a simple rebuild of the existing connector was not going to happen.
Barnaby Evans, executive artistic director of WaterFire, said he was very pleased and called it a “vast improvement” over what had originally been proposed by the state.
“The original plan was to replace the bridges as-was. The worry was they were in such shape we needed to move quickly. The city responded by saying, let’s take a little bit of time and try to rework this, and these are all very worthy things,” Evans said.
WaterFire is currently constructing a new performance and community facility in the Valley neighborhood, but Evans said he attended because the 6-10 is a community-wide concern. “I’m here because it’s vital for these neighborhoods to [come] together.”
Fix the 6-10 Coalition, a coalition of organizations and businesses that had supported the city’s initial plans for revamping the exchange, released a statement that thanked Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza for “sticking to your guns and demanding infrastructure that takes Providence forward.”
The new plan features improved connections between neighborhoods, particularly at Tobey Street and at Olneyville Square, said Seth Zeren, the coalition’s spokesman. In an interview following the session, he said it was clear the efforts of the 30-member coalition had influenced the outcome.
“It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s a good compromise,” Zeren said.
Alex Ellis, executive director of the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition, attended the press briefing on the new plan. His initial view was it was an improvement over rebuilding as-is. “The devil’s in the details,” he said. “The important bike connections we were hoping for are there. It looks like the connections across the highway and along the highway are there.”
Some areas remain a concern, he said, including the Dean Street area between Federal Hill and Valley.
“The Dean Street overpass is another critical connection for bicycling in Providence. It’s still there and it’s still awful.”
Olneyville is one of the Providence neighborhoods likely most heavily impacted by the new plan. However, when contacted about the conceptual designs, Gaspar Espinoza, executive director of the Olneyville Neighborhood Association, didn’t know anything had come out, unlike some other neighborhood and civic-engagement groups.
The exclusion, he said, is a reoccurring pattern realized in his neighborhood, which he says was largely left out throughout the entire planning process.
“They’re not interested in the opinions of the residents of these poor neighborhoods,” he said. “We have no financial power.”
After hearing from a reporter some of the plan highlights, he thought eliminating the Plainfield Street on-ramp would be an improvement, and that he hoped the neighborhoods would be more involved in discussions moving forward about what could be developed there instead.
Elorza, who had led the city’s initial efforts to remake the 6-10, told reporters on Thursday that the end result is something everyone could be happy with.
“We looked at every possible angle to this,” said Elorza. “We looked at a boulevard. There was talk about a parkway. That proved to be impossible, due to the topography and the train tracks on the other side. … I’m confident and comfortable that we did our due diligence and through this process, we came up with the best possible design.”

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