Here we go again

By Arlene Violet
Posted 9/8/19

Amid much fanfare, the Providence Pedestrian Bridge opened this summer. While the politicians were giddy, the originally planned $3 million bridge actually cost the taxpayers a hair under $22 …

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Here we go again


Amid much fanfare, the Providence Pedestrian Bridge opened this summer. While the politicians were giddy, the originally planned $3 million bridge actually cost the taxpayers a hair under $22 million, despite being a scaled-down version. Now, history is about to repeat itself. The price tag on the planned Pawtucket commuter rail station is now pegged at $51 million from an initial cost of $40 million and a shovelful of dirt hasn’t been disturbed yet. This project, too, is supposedly a scaled-down version with the elimination of a second set of tracks from the station. But wait! There's more!

The project actually could curtail Amtrak’s service on the Northeast corridor. With this proposal to eliminate the second track, intercity and express trains couldn’t overtake the trains stopping in Pawtucket, thereby jamming the sole electric rail track like Route 95 at peak time. Nor could the trains turn around in Pawtucket without continuing into Boston anyway. A Rhode Island only system would never happen. In effect, the whole rationalization for the Pawtucket station was to run a local rail system and establish express rail system between Providence and Boston. This aspiration of Governor Gina Raimondo to open a Pawtucket station raises an important question: Why?

A stone’s throw away is the South Attleboro station on the border of Pawtucket which now provides parking for commuters traveling into Boston and back. Why would Rhode Island spend this kind of money for a speculative, marginal improvement which could slow down Amtrak, particularly its Acela service, in the future? The state is on the toe line of another “Oops!” moment.

Keep in mind the fiasco of the Wickford Train Station. Hailed as a project that would bring folks into Rhode Island and stimulate economic development, the station is a ghost town. This $44 million project with an 1100 space parking garage has never seen the ridership touted as a justification for its construction. As noted in the Hummel Report (Providence Journal, August 23, 2019) while state leaders projected a ridership of 1500 passengers a day, in July 2019 it was 657 during the “busy” summer time. The average number of vehicles using the garage is one-quarter of the estimate. For July 2019 there was an average of 302 parked cars, many vehicles of which belonged to URI day hoppers who are shuttled back and forth to the Kingstown campus, not train passengers.

The fact is that Rhode Island's political leaders have a serious disease: “Edifice complex”. They cannot rest without constructing something during their tenure with their names on the edifice. Of course, their money isn’t at risk. Each folly carries a price tag for the taxpayers.

Other than pipe dreams and fairy dust rhetoric from state and Pawtucket leaders no compelling argument has been made for this train station, particularly as presently configured. If they build it they shall come can no longer be the standard by which these projects are selected. So, in 2019, what real evidence exists to substantiate that this station is the economic boon which is projected? Why isn’t the South Attleboro station, which is 7 minutes away, sufficient to promote such growth if this argument holds water? Without solid proof the state is headed for another train wreck.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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