RIDOT backs off contested S. Water Street bike lane project

Updated at 5:51 p.m.

THE R.I. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION will not seek a review of the contested South Water Street bike lane. / COURTESY CITY OF PROVIDENCE

PROVIDENCE – State transportation officials are reneging on legal and financial threats over a contested bike lane project along the downtown riverfront.

In a statement on Thursday, the R.I. Department of Transportation said it decided not to “press the issue” of federal or state review for the South Water Street bike lane. RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. previously asked the city to stop construction on the two-way bike lane until federal and state transportation officials could review the work, citing a 1999 contract between the three groups. In the Oct. 6 letter to Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, Alviti warned that if the city did not comply, it would have to pay back the $4.4 million in federal and state funds spent on prior improvements to the street.

However, after a recent meeting in which the Federal Highway Administration declined to get involved, RIDOT is backing off, too, it said in the statement on Thursday.

“We sympathize with the abutters but since FHWA is not supportive of any corrective action, we encourage them to seek remedy through city government,” the release stated.

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The bike lane, part of a Elorza’s larger Great Streets Initiative plan to make the city more accessible by multiple forms of transportation, has come under fire in recent months, with some area businesses, universities and property owners citing safety and traffic concerns. Some also said they were not given notice about the project until construction began, despite a series of public meetings and other opportunities for public feedback since Elorza announced the plan in early 2020.

RIDOT in its statement also suggested it did not think the project, which cuts the vehicle traffic from two lanes to one, was the “best course of action,” noting its use as an entry point to Interstate-195 along with area development plans.

“However, if FHWA has no interest in getting involved, we have no choice but to let the construction stand,” RIDOT said in the release.

Elorza already cast doubt on RIDOT’s objections, questioning whether the 1999 contract they cited was applicable to the project, and maintaining the city would complete the half-mile bike lane as planned.

In an emailed response Thursday, Elorza said, “We are pleased by the FHWA’s decision and look forward to continuing the important work of giving the people of Providence what they have asked for: safe, inclusive, vibrant city streets to be shared by all.”

The bike lane, which was recently completed, cost the city $300,000 according to Timothy Rondeau, a spokesman for the planning department.

(ADDS penultimate paragraph with Elorza comment.)

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

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