(Updated 3:28 and 3:59 p.m.)
PROVIDENCE – Gov. Gina M. Raimondo announced Wednesday she has directed the R.I. Department of Transportation to initiate replacement of the Route 6-10 connector, a series of nine bridges and elevated roadways that carry more than 100,000 vehicles daily.
The decision, she said, was prompted by a determination from federal highway officials that a key component of the span – the Huntington Avenue viaduct bridge – is deteriorating rapidly.
The bridge, which was already rated as structurally deficient along with six other of the nine bridges in the connector, had a “sufficiency index” of 19 out of 100 points as of December 2015, according to a letter from Carlos C. Machado, division administrator of Federal Highway Administration.
Raimondo’s decision will mean that RIDOT will put the work out to bid by the end of the calendar year with construction to start in early 2017.
The action also means the end of discussion about replacing a portion of the span with a boulevard concept rather than an elevated highway which would have connected several neighborhoods in Providence that are currently separated by the connector.
Raimondo said she would have liked a more thorough discussion about the boulevard, but said the state is out of time.
She stressed that public safety played a part in the decision.
“I know this is the right thing to do with respect to public safety,” Raimondo said.
She said she doesn’t have the luxury of time to make a decision about replacing the connector.
“What I have now is reality, a soon-to-be dangerous situation. We have to move. I can’t have these bridges hurting anyone,” she said.
“Time is out for debate,” Raimondo said. “It’s time for action.”
She said that going forward, she will have the state conduct quarterly inspections of the bridges in the connector.
The project is expected to cost $400 million, which DOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. said the agency will have thanks to the approval of RhodeWorks – Raimondo’s $4.7 billion infrastructure legislation.
Raimondo announced her decision to move ahead with replacing the Huntington Avenue viaduct bridge immediately, at a press conference attended by the four mayors whose communities are connected by the span and routes 6 and 10.
They included Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena, North Providence Mayor Charles A. Lombardi and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian.
Raimondo pointed out that public engagement and feedback over the 6-10 interchange would continue for the next 60 days, but that it would have to be “wrapped up” within that timeframe so the state could move forward on replacement work.
When asked by reporters what could result from such feedback, she suggested modifications including bike lanes or addition of a mass transit lane.
The idea that the state will rebuild the interchange, much as it presently exists, is not a missed opportunity, she told reporters. The interchange improvements had been planned, or in design, for 30 years before she took office, without a funding mechanism.
“People are going to see this as someone finally solving the problems we’ve faced for decades,” she said.
Alviti addressed the issue of planning for an alternative corridor design, which has been the subject of community and city-organized meetings.
The state has the funds available for the bridge replacement through RhodeWorks, he noted, but had also sought $175 million in a federal grant that could have allowed design enhancements, including a capping of the existing depressed portion of Route 10, allowing for a surface-level boulevard connecting the Olneyville and West Broadway neighborhoods of Providence, now divided by the highway.
The state did not receive the $175 million grant, he emphasized. “We had hoped to secure this funding to implement the enhanced design and improvements to the interchange, which we would have pursued enthusiastically,” he said. “But we did not get that grant. Time moved on and now we’re at a juncture where we need to start replacement work. We need to fix this.”
In his prepared comments, Elorza said the city had recently been made aware of the state of the Huntington viaduct bridge. Although he said the city shares the concerns of the state officials in immediately addressing it, he pointed out that the state, the city and the communities divided by the connector have all articulated a larger goal for replacing the aging infrastructure.
“The safety of our residents and the safety of our communities are absolutely paramount, both at the city level and at the state level. While we know the bridge must be addressed in short order, we remain enthusiastic about the opportunity to collaborate with the state and enhance the 6-10 corridor as a whole,” he said.
The larger goals for the span include enhanced mobility, improving the quality of place and the quality of life, he said, and opening up the area to economic development.
He did not specifically address what Alviti would later confirm for reporters: that the day’s announcement meant the end of discussion of a partial corridor to replace the elevated highway.
Kari N. Lang, executive director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, is a longtime advocate of the neighborhoods surrounding the 6-10 connector, and she was surprised to hear that the state had made the decision to move forward with its original design without taking into consideration – or including – the many suggestions that had come from the neighborhoods. She lambasted the plan, saying more of the same will only continue to isolate neighborhoods from one another.
“The WBNA is shocked and outraged by this shortsighted announcement. Again the community hasn’t been included in DOT’s process or design. Again Rhode Island will be missing a great opportunity to be forward-thinking and ahead of the curve as a state,” Lang said. “We will be missing an opportunity to right the wrongs of past social justice and poor design, we will be missing an opportunity to actually save money and be more sustainable. The West End, Olneyville, Providence and all of Rhode Island deserve better than this.”
The WBNA is a part of a 6-10 Coalition, which she says is growing all the time.
“We will be meeting to determine our next steps in light of this news,” she added.
Eli Sherman contributed to this report.