PORTSMOUTH — After hearing 90 minutes of debate on both sides of the issue, the Town Council Monday night approved a R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT) proposal for a lane reduction on a 1.2-mile portion of Bristol Ferry Road.
The 6-0 vote came with the stipulation, however, that the “road diet” undergo a trial period through July 4 to see if it poses any major problems. If it doesn’t, it would be incorporated into the state’s re-paving of that road later in the summer.
RIDOT’s plan calls for reducing Bristol Ferry Road — from Turnpike Avenue to Boyd’s Lane — by one lane in each direction, with a center lane for left-hand turns. Robert A. Smith, deputy chief engineer at RIDOT, said the 40-foot-wide road would have two 11-foot travel lanes, a 10-foot center turn lane and 8-foot, 4-inch shoulders.
While some residents said a lane reduction would intensify traffic congestion in the area during peak hours, the council ultimately sided with those who believe the road diet will slow drivers down and reduce accidents.
“When it comes down to it, I think safety rules,” said council member Molly Magee.
According to the legislative State Traffic Commission which recommended the lane reduction, 48 crashes occurred from 2008 to 2012 on Bristol Ferry. Two of those crashes resulted in fatalities, and there were two additional fatal crashes last year alone. Mr. Smith said the three lane reductions RIDOT undertook in Portsmouth in the past five years all resulted in slower drivers and fewer accidents.
“Based on past experience we can expect considerable reduction in angle and sideswipe crashes,” he said, adding that those were the types of accidents most common on that stretch of road.
Both Police Chief Robert Lee said Fire Chief Michael Cranson spoke in favor of the road diet, saying the lane reduction on East Main Road resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of auto accidents. “We believe this can provide accident reductions,” said Chief Lee.
Dan Williams, who’s lived on Bristol Ferry Road for 30 years, called it a “speedway.”
“I’ve seen people go through utility poles,” said Mr. Williams, who supported the road diet. “I’ve seen people hit from behind.”
Diane Carruba said Bristol Ferry has become increasingly dangerous over the years. “I’ve had two people die very close to my driveway,” she said, adding that her husband has been hit from behind. “When I pull out of the driveway, I go the speed limit and cars are flying by me. You’re sitting there like a sitting duck.”
Several people spoke against the lane reduction, saying Bristol Ferry is already congested enough without slowing traffic down further.
Resident Tom Grieb said he wasn’t concerned about road diets in general, but he was about one for Bristol Ferry. According to studies by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission and the Federal Highway Administration, the road experiences serious backup at peak hours, with excessive traffic delays, he said.
“This is going to get worse with the road diet. You can move cars quicker with the two lanes,” said Mr. Grieb. “I think lowering and enforcing the speed limit is a better way to go.”
He also took issue with Mr. Smith’s contention that a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge would divert only 1,200 more vehicles onto Bristol Ferry daily due to drivers taking the Mt. Hope Bridge to avoid the levy. According to a study by Jacobs Engineering, 8,252 vehicles would be diverted from the bridge because of a toll, he pointed out.
“I don’t know how only 1,200 will go over the Mt. Hope Bridge,” said Mr. Grieb.
Council member Keith Hamilton, who lives off Bristol Ferry Road and supports the road diet, countered that he doesn’t think a lane reduction would have a big impact on Mt. Hope Bridge traffic. “I’m also confident the toll will go away, so that won’t be an issue going forward,” he said.
Norma Jones said a lane reduction would cause a bottleneck on the northbound lane near the Mt. Hope Bridge, making it difficult for local residents to get onto Bristol Ferry. The gridlock, she noted, goes from the bridge all the way south to the Sprague Street intersection.
Jeanne Fitzpatrick agreed, saying she lives at least a quarter of a mile south of the bridge on Bristol Ferry and can see the backup at her house. “I do know there are safety issues, but you have to take into consideration they’re already backed up to my house at rush hour,” she said.
Rep. Dennis Canario (D-Dist. 71), a former police officer, said he supported the road diet concept as long as it’s monitored by police on an ongoing basis. “You need to have an enforcement component that goes along with it,” he said.
Several council members said they’d like to see the road diet implemented on a temporary, trial period. Mr. Smith said it was a reasonable request, as long as it doesn’t delay the repaving project too long.