Editorial: Private voices can still shape public policy

Posted 2/20/20

The closure of one lane over the Silver Creek Bridge will impact everyone in Bristol. Trips north will be more frustrating than ever. A quick run to the grocery store will take longer than ever. And …

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Editorial: Private voices can still shape public policy

Posted

The closure of one lane over the Silver Creek Bridge will impact everyone in Bristol. Trips north will be more frustrating than ever. A quick run to the grocery store will take longer than ever. And Metacom Avenue will be more congested than ever.

But it will be a lot better than it could have been.

When first revealed about a year ago, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) plan seemed preposterous. The entire bridge would be demolished, leaving no passage into and out of the downtown district along the town’s western corridor, for months. A former publisher of the Providence Journal declared it a “blockade” of the town’s historic district.

Immediate reactions were disbelief and anger, especially when DOT and town leaders obstinately stated there were no other options. At the forefront of the opposition was a small band of downtown merchants who feared, quite reasonably, for the long-term health of their businesses.

As they protested, and then protested more, two things happened — more people joined their cause, and DOT became more obstinate. Repeatedly, DOT affirmed it was the only choice for the tiny Silver Creek Bridge, even as it boasted of the hundreds of bridges and billions of dollars of repair work being undertaken throughout the state. The message was clear as well as transparent — we are doing enormous things, and we don’t really have time to worry about this small thorn over in Bristol.

Yet still people protested.

Through letters to this paper, letters to the governor, in public meetings and in face to face meetings with town leaders, they pleaded for a different plan. Private citizens, many of them experts in fields of engineering or geology, joined the chorus of opposition, suggesting alternative plans to replace the 16-foot span without blockading the densely populated downtown.

Eventually, all that hooting and hollering from Bristol got through to the folks in Providence, and DOT announced a new plan in the fall — one lane would stay open at all times. All it took was a little creativity and about $300,000.

Jen and Chip Cavallaro, Stephan Brigidi, Patrick Barosh, Halsey Herreshoff and too many others to mention deserve credit for demanding better service from their public servants. They demonstrated, once again, that individual citizens, when engaged, informed and motivated, can not only speak for themselves, but affect real change. Whether speaking for a silent majority, confronting big government or advocating for a better community, they can make a difference.

Everyone in Bristol should be thanking these outspoken citizens. Traffic will be frustrating for the next six months, but it could be so much worse.

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Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.