Warren’s ‘Market to Metacom’ takes step forward as R.I. receives $54.8M for climate-resilient infrastructure

A MAP outlining the Market Street and Metacom Avenue neighborhoods in Warren. Under a "managed retreat" plan, town officials are pursuing a proposal to buyout residential and business infrastructure in the flood-prone Market Street neighborhood and reestablish the district along Metacom Avenue. / COURTESY TOWN OF WARREN

WARREN – Amid intensifying flood and storm activity, town officials have long recognized the densely-populated, low-lying Market Street neighborhood as particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

By 2100, consultants say, the neighborhood surrounding Belcher’s Cove and Market Street stands to lose $126 million in business revenue and $86 million in building loss, including 541 housing units, to such climate events. 

But “that’s in terms of if we didn’t do anything,” says Herbert “Herb” A. Durfee III, director of the Warren Office of Planning & Community Development. 

And the town has been far from idle in the face of these threats: A plan known as “Market to Metacom,” now several years in the making, proposes buyouts of these at-risk properties, with a goal of shifting the current residents of this neighborhood to the town’s Metacom Avenue corridor.

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This approach – an example of a strategy known as “managed retreat” – recently received a $750,000 allocation from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation. The grant, awarded to the R.I. Department of Transportation will allow updates to three state roadways impacted by the plan.

The same funding round, announced this week and totaling $54,750,800, also included $17 million toward upgrades to the Mount Hope Bridge spanning Bristol and Portsmouth; more than $11 million for repairs to the Newport Cliff Walk; and $26 million toward managing stormwater drainage, roadway flooding and other climate change impacts across 97 locations statewide.

While Market to Metacom received the smallest portion of the recent PROTECT funding, the project has made a sizeable splash in statewide conversations around climate adaptations. Though other communities across the U.S. have implemented managed retreat strategies in disaster-prone areas, observers have recognized Warren for leading the way in this particularly involved response to climate change in Rhode Island.

Also this week, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast New England Program announced a $75,000 grant toward Warren’s Market to Metacom project.

The three roadways covered under the PROTECT grant – Market Street, Metacom Avenue and Child Street — will require upgrades and bylaw changes to meet the town’s vision, Durfee said. For Metacom Avenue, that includes new bike infrastructure, lane restructuring and tree-lined streets, among other changes intended to make the commercial district more attractive to a residential population.

Currently, it’s the Market Street area, located just off the town’s lively Main Street, that holds more of that residential appeal. The neighborhood hosts around 400 buildings, including more than 700 housing units and 30 businesses.

But in the not-so-distant future, Durfee said, that area will likely be underwater.

Beyond the roadway improvements along Metacom, the town is also planning to establish around 34,000 square feet of civic or institutional space, 108,000 square feet of commercial space, 452 multifamily residential units, 68 single residential family units and more than 1,100 parking spots to accommodate these additions.

We’re trying to be focused on the sea level rise and the changes that are going to occur to Warren, and to RIDOT, that we’re going to have to address whether we like it or not,” Durfee said. 

The plan’s first phase, which includes steps such as acquisitions, demolitions, utility removals and site cleaning, comes with an estimated price tag of $14.9 million, with the project’s four planned phases costing a total of around $138.2 million – Less than the approximately $212 million estimated damages to revenue and property loss outlined in the proposal. Additionally, proponents point to future tax revenue generation in the reimagined Metacom neighborhood.

The town is currently hammering out financial and regulatory details as it forms its next comprehensive plan, which hasn’t been updated since prior to the Market to Metacom proposal’s existence, and will continue to hold public engagement efforts in this process.

“The key is that this is a true long-term project,” Durfee said. “This is not something we’re going to do in the next five or 10 ears. It’s going to go on for quite a few years.” 

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.

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