PORTSMOUTH — State traffic officials assured the Town Council Monday night that any lane reduction on Bristol Ferry Road wouldn’t happen without a public hearing.The so-called “road diet” for Bristol Ferry, from Turnpike Avenue to Boyd’s Lane, was planned as part of a resurfacing project this spring, according to Robert Smith, deputy chief engineer for the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT). The plan was to reduce the road by one lane in each direction, with a center lane for left-hand turns.
The project has faced opposition from some residents and council members, who say no lane reductions should take place until it’s determined whether a permanent toll will be instituted on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
“I do have reservations about people using Bristol Ferry Road as a way of getting around the Sakonnet River Bridge,” said council member David Gleason.
Those who support reducing lanes on Bristol Ferry, including Mr. Smith, say it would make the road safer by slowing traffic down.
However, he said the road diet won’t happen if it faces widespread opposition from the town, and that traffic officials are willing to come back for a public hearing on the proposal. Mr. Smith also apologized for “some complacency” on the part of RIDOT regarding public input on the project.
“I admit our outreach was not what it should have been. We kind of get tugged around from community to community and we forget where we’ve been,” said Mr. Smith. “It’s not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination.”
The Bristol Ferry Road lane reduction was considered in Portsmouth, he said, because the town has had success with similar road diets in the past. One of the first ones, Mr. Smith pointed out, was Park Avenue, which used to have four lanes.
Brenda Langlais, who lives on Dove Street off Bristol Ferry, said she didn’t think a lane reduction on that road would make things safer.
“There are people coming and going to Bristol and Warren and they’re not watching and they’re driving fast,” Ms. Langlais said. “I don’t think a road diet will fix that.”
Ms. Langlais proposed making Bristol Ferry a limited-access road by blocking the left-hand turn onto the Mt. Hope Bridge for northbound drivers. They should be forced to take an alternative route on Boyd’s Lane to get on the bridge, she said.
Tolls’ impact on road
Mr. Gleason said a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge will have a big impact on Bristol Ferry Road traffic, with many drivers choosing to get to Providence or elsewhere via the Mt. Hope Bridge.
“I don’t want to see a Metacom Avenue in the town of Portsmouth … where we’re down to single lanes and we’re congested. I think until the matter of the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls are settled, nothing should be done,” said Mr. Gleason, who suggested lowering the speed limit on Bristol Ferry first.
Mr. Smith, however, said lowering speed limits has been proven to be ineffective in slowing people down on such roads. With past lane reductions in Portsmouth, he said, “almost all of them have experienced less crashes and a speed reduction as a result of the road diet.”
Town Center project
Also discussed Monday was the so-called Town Center project, which has been on the back burner for several years. The project calls for re-designing the section of East Main Road that runs from Town Hall down Quaker Hill to Turnpike Avenue.
The local Town Center Committee, which is no longer active, first came up with the plan about 10 years ago, and Mr. Smith called it “pretty cutting edge at the time.” It calls for three roundabouts connected by a medium — eliminating all left turns — which would slow traffic down and make the area safer for pedestrians, he said.
“It’s a big job and if it goes forward and its current form, it will completely change the character of the road to the driver and the pedestrian,” said Mr. Smith. “Of course when you try to put that into an already developed area, it’s disruptive.”
RIDOT’s plans for the project are “about 75 percent complete,” he said. “We’re at the point we’ll be going for environmental permits… the next big step in design.”
Mr. Smith said RIDOT last met with local officials on the Town Center project about three years ago and would like to have another meeting soon.
Funding for the project probably won’t be available for years, according to council member Keith Hamilton.
‘Sliding’ Park Avenue over
In what was a surprise announcement to council members, Mr. Smith said RIDOT is also interested in “sliding” Park Avenue to the south as it meets East Main Road so it can share the same traffic light with Basin Street on the other side of the road. The plan also calls for closing off access to Chase Road from Park Avenue, he said.
“I don’t know any residents who know anything about that,” said council member Elizabeth Pedro.
Mr. Smith said if that plan reaches the design stage, it will also go before a public hearing.