RIPTA identifies Parcel 35 as possible location for bus hub in I-195 district

PARCEL 35 in Providence's I-195 Redevelopment District is a potential site of the R.I. Public Transit Authority's future mixed-used bus hub. / SCREENSHOT FROM I-195 REDEVELOPMENT DISTRICT WEBSITE
PARCEL 35 in Providence's I-195 Redevelopment District is a potential site of the R.I. Public Transit Authority's future mixed-used bus hub. / SCREENSHOT FROM I-195 REDEVELOPMENT DISTRICT WEBSITE

It’s official: A 2.15-acre lot in Providence’s I-195 Redevelopment District is among the contenders for the R.I. Public Transit Authority’s new bus depot to replace Kennedy Plaza. 

RIPTA made the announcement Thursday morning, less than a month after its board of directors unanimously approved a nearly $16.9 million contract with Next Wave Partners to start design work for a mixed-use bus hub.  

The agency is eyeing land on Friendship and East Franklin streets as the potential site for a hub offering indoor waiting areas, expanded restrooms, digital screens to track bus arrivals and departures, bike storage and repair stations, and other amenities. 

It is listed as Parcel 35 in the I-195 Redevelopment District.

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But RIPTA has not officially abandoned the intersection of Dorrance and Dyer streets as a location, where cost estimates in 2021 put the transit hub project at $77 million. 

“RIPTA and its partners are considering all possible sites for the new transit center,” agency spokesperson Cristy Raposo Perry said in an email Thursday. 

The choice of the I-195 lot came as a surprise to no one. Even Gov. Daniel J. McKee last December admitted the site was a strong possibility during a radio interview with Gene Valicenti. 

“We’re looking at a place in the 195 District that I believe will finally get something done,” McKee told Valicenti Dec. 8. 

Before RIPTA can proceed with work to pursue the project on the I-195 lot, the agency needs to reach an agreement with the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission. The agency needs a commitment from the commission that it would not issue a request for proposals (RFP) or enter into negotiations with any other entity about the purchase of the parcel for the next eight months. 

RIPTA officials plan to make a presentation to the commission at its next meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. on Monday,  Feb. 26.  

“That’s why there’s a discussion on it on the 195 agenda,” commission spokesperson Cara Cromwell said in an interview Thursday afternoon. “This is just the very first step.” 

Normally, the commission would issue an RFP, review them, select a preferred developer, and review designs, Cromwell said. 

The bus hub would be the result of a public-private partnership. Public funding would come from a $35 million bond for mass transit center infrastructure approved by voters in 2014. 

Transit advocates have long been critical of RIPTA potentially moving its hub from Kennedy Plaza — especially to the 195 district. 

“The streets are too narrow, and it’s too remote,” said Randall Rose, a member of the Kennedy Plaza Resilience Coalition and RI Transit Riders, in an interview after Thursday’s announcement. 

A better choice, Rose said, is for RIPTA to renovate Kennedy Plaza. 

“You want to have the hub in a place where all the streets converge and near where the riders are going,” he said. “Most people who get off at Kennedy Plaza are not there because they want to transfer, they want to be in the center of downtown Providence — which this new center is not.” 

RIPTA has conducted a rider survey that looked at the beginning and ending of passengers’ destinations, Raposo Perry said. 

“RIPTA will analyze that data as we go through this process,” she added. “The goal is to minimize the walk distances for people if they are going somewhere other than Kennedy Plaza.” 

Christopher Shea is a staff writer for the Rhode Island Current.

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