RIDOT announces upcoming hearings on downtown bus hub

THE R.I. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION and R.I. Public Transit Authority on Thursday announced two upcoming, virtual hearings for community members to share feedback on a new downtown transit hub. Pictured is Kennedy Plaza in Providence. / PBN FILE PHOTO/ ELIZABETH GRAHAM

PROVIDENCE – Critics who decried the lack of public input over a state agency’s plans to overhaul the downtown Providence transit system will finally get their say.

The R.I. Department of Transportation and R.I. Public Transit Authority on Thursday announced they will hold two days of virtual public hearings on a new bus hub plan to replace Kennedy Plaza.

The hearings come more than a year and a half after RIDOT unveiled Providence Multi-Hub Bus System, which would divide the main bus depot at Kennedy Plaza into three hubs, keeping some of the routes at the plaza and adding destinations at the Providence train station and a new hub on Dyer Street. While RIDOT initially insisted the plan was a done deal despite backlash from riders, businesses and community groups, it later tapped the brakes to allow for more review and public input.

THE ORIGINAL The Providence Multi-Hub Bus System from the R.I. Department of Transportation would have divided the central bus hub at Kennedy Plaza across three locations, adding hubs at the Providence Station and on Dyer Street along the gateway to the I-195 Redevelopment District, while having some bus routes still end at Kennedy Plaza. SOURCE: R.I. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION / 

Whether that original plan is even on the table for consideration is unclear. The state agency in December promised to hold public hearings on three options: the multi-hub plan, an alternative single-hub as part of an indoor transit center on Dorrance Street, or the current configuration at Kennedy Plaza with some security upgrades, spokesperson Lisbeth Pettengill said at the time.

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The announcement Thursday said the upcoming hearings will “focus” on the Dorrance Street option. Keeping the bus hub at Kennedy Plaza, as originally suggested by RIDOT in December, appears to be off the table, with the state agency now highlighting a separate set of non-bus-related improvements the city of Providence has planned for Kennedy Plaza and the surrounding area. The city’s $140 million Kennedy Plaza redesign plan assumed the bus hub would not stay there.

The announcement made no mention of the original multi-hub plan. RIDOT and RIPTA did not immediately respond to inquiries for comment on Thursday as to whether this is still an option.

The Dorrance Street option has already gained support from developers, riders and downtown business groups, many of whom were unhappy with the original multi-hub plan.

A PROPOSAL TO CREATE a new, indoor transit center on Dorrance Street in Providence will be presented for feedback in upcoming public hearings. / RENDERING COURTESY OF UNION STUDIO ARCHITECTURE AND COMMUNITY DESIGN

The Dorrance Street proposal, slated for a series of empty parking lots across from the Garrahy Judicial Complex, calls for a five-story building that would also include ground-floor retail, an indoor parking garage and a top floor of workforce housing apartments, complementing the commercial and housing development planned for the adjacent I-195 Redevelopment District.

“At the direction of Governor McKee, RIPTA will work with RIDOT on creating a new transit center focused on downtown bus service and the passenger experience,” Scott Avedisian, RIPTA CEO, said in a statement. “We’re extremely excited about the direction this project has taken, as it presents us with an opportunity to dramatically improve the passenger experience in downtown Providence that we have never had before.”

The virtual hearings are slated for 6 p.m. on Feb. 24 and at noon and 6 p.m. on March 8. Those planning to attend are asked to register in advance by emailing marketing@ripta.com or leaving a message at 401-784-9500 x 1242.

More information on the proposed changes, along with the option to submit written feedback outside of a scheduled hearing, is available at RIPTA.com/TransitCenter. Comments will be accepted through March 11.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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