PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) last week announced its intentions to keep open the Gano Street exit off of Interstate 195 as part of its long-term, $70 …
PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) last week announced its intentions to keep open the Gano Street exit off of Interstate 195 as part of its long-term, $70 million plan to rehabilitate the Washington Bridge, but the most pertinent news for East Providence was the agency's formal acknowledgment that a new ramp exiting directly to Waterfront Drive is also to be included in the effort.
The news, together with the previously announced reconstruction of the Henderson Bridge, means East Providence residents and businesses, especially, will enjoy greater access to the city’s shoreline along the Seekonk and Providence Rivers. As part of the overall project, the anticipated start to construction of the new Waterfront Drive exit is sometime in either 2022 or 2023.
Late last year, the United States Department of Transportation provided the project with a Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant in the sum of $25 million, bringing the total amount of federal funding now committed to the project to $56 million. The new Waterfront Drive ramp was part of the state’s grant proposal.
“It’s more important than ever to continue with these projects that will improve the city’s economic development prospects,” said East Providence Waterfront Commission Chairman Bill Fazioli, who doubles as the city’s Economic/Planning director. “Fortunately, we continue to work on several proposals during this time.”
Municipal and private sector officials remain engaged with property owners at or near the location of the new ramp, including the Chevron Corporation, holders of a significant parcel along nearby Veterans Memorial Parkway, and the reconstituted Rhode Island Waterfront Enterprises, which last year purchased land in the same area at the South Quay with the intention of constructing a permanent venue near Bold Point Park where for the last three years it’s operated a temporary, seasonal concert series.
“The new off-ramp directly on to Waterfront Drive will provide the city with significant leverage during the economic recovery once the COVID-19 crisis recedes,” Mr. Fazioli added.
According to RIDOT, the decision to keep the Gano Street ramp open comes after three traffic studies were conducted by VHB, Commonwealth Engineers and Consultants and McMahon Associates. The studies analyzed traffic patterns on I-195 and local streets in East Providence and Providence in the vicinity of the Washington Bridge.
The studies indicated that the existing Gano Street off-ramp can remain open while the Washington Bridge reconstruction still achieves a marked reduction in chronic traffic congestion on I-195 West. The studies examined the potential impacts of keeping the ramp open or closing it permanently. All indicated that at least for 10 years, keeping the off-ramp open will not affect traffic.
“Washington Bridge has to be rehabilitated. While we are doing this work, we need to make sure that as the rebuilding goes on, we are doing it in such a way that we will clear up as many traffic jams as we can,” RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said. “Our studies showed that keeping the ramp open will not cause traffic problems.”
RIDOT will soon issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the rehabilitation design/build project. The bridge is classified as structurally deficient and must be rehabilitated.
Pre-construction activity on the Washington Bridge is scheduled to start this year with a contract awarded during the summer. RIDOT has secured a $25 million grant through the work of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation to support this $70 million design/build project.
The grant obliges RIDOT to start work in a timely manner. RIDOT will remain in constant contact with the Rhode Island Department of Health regarding the most up-to-date public health guidance and proper protections for workers when construction begins on this project.
In addition to rehabilitating the bridge, the project design includes an additional through lane to better accommodate mainline highway traffic and the high volume of traffic entering the highway from Veterans Memorial Parkway, Warren Avenue and Taunton Avenue.
A new exit in East Providence will provide a direction connection to Waterfront Drive, a major area for future economic development on the East Providence waterfront.
Scheduling will be coordinated with improvements at the Henderson Bridge to minimize traffic disruptions for both highway and local traffic.
The Henderson Bridge design also includes a direct connection to Waterfront Drive. Work on the Henderson Bridge is expected to begin this summer and will take approximately four years. It represents another $88.5 million investment in the area, which includes $54.5 million of federal funds as part of a new spending law authored by Senator Jack Reed.