Transportation

RIDOT Offers Preview of Expansive I-95 North Project

PROVIDENCE — It’s safe to say that if you’ve ever driven on Interstate 95 northbound near the mall, you’ve put your life in other people’s steering-wheel-gripping hands. This area, known as the Providence viaduct, had more than 1,000 vehicle crashes between 2009 and 2014, and can back up for several miles during rush hour.

“This corridor has easily become the most congested section of highway in the state,” Anthony Pompei, a project manager for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), said during a Dec. 10 online presentation. “The existing Providence viaduct was originally constructed back in the ’60s to carry I-95 through downtown Providence and was originally constructed to carry less than 60,000 vehicles per day. This corridor now processes nearly four times that amount, making it the third-most traveled interstate in all of New England.”

The I-95 south-side section of the viaduct was revamped in 2017, but the northbound section — which includes ramps to and from downtown, an exit to state offices, and connections to Route 146 and the 6/10 Connector — has suffered not only from traffic backlogs and accidents but also crumbling infrastructure.

“Carrying significantly more traffic than it was initially designed for has also led to the accelerated deterioration of the bridge structures,” Pompei said. “Due to these structural deficiencies, RIDOT has conducted bimonthly bridge inspections of the viaduct and performed several emergency repairs.”

The project will replace the 1,295-foot-long northbound section of the Providence viaduct, which carries Interstate 95 over numerous roads and highway ramps, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, and the Woonasquatucket River. (RIDOT)

With the situation growing more dire, RIDOT has secured a $60.3 million federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant as part of a larger pool of funds to revamp this outdated section of interstate. They showcased the preliminary designs at the recent virtual meeting.

One featured improvement includes a connector-distributor road on the northbound side near Providence Place, which will be separated from the other lanes by a barrier. RIDOT says this will reduce traffic and accidents where the ramps from downtown and the 6/10 Connector merge to I-95 North, and where cars scoot across lanes to jump on Route 146, exit at the state offices, or continue northward to Pawtucket and beyond.

“Adding that new connector-distributor roadway allows for a more efficient set of connections from Atwells [Avenue] and the ramps and reduces that problematic of weaving,” said Matthew D’Angelo, a design manager for HNTB, an infrastructure design firm helping with the project.

Other improvements include creating a new Route 146 bridge near the Orms Street exit, a repair of the Atwells Avenue on-ramp, and rebuilding 11 bridges along the route.

Concerns from the public were minimal and ranged from questions about noise due to construction and pile driving to safer pedestrian and bicycle crossing on the Orms Street bridge.

“We’re just finishing preliminary design and heading towards final design,” Pompei said. “So all of those discussions are currently just starting and getting underway.”

He urged participants to engage with the city of Providence, which hosts separate community outreach for all city roadwork.

The project is expected to cost $265 million and the work is scheduled to start this spring, with completion anticipated by summer 2025.

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  1. all highway expansion proposals talk of "safety" but in reality they build a system that overall is unusually dangerous, attracting even more traffic and vehicle miles, and putting the congestion somewhere else. As a goal of the project is to promote even faster speeds to tear thru Providence, any crashes will be even more deadly. It widens an already excessive highway gash in central Providence that separates the downtown core/mall area from developments to the west, and note they didn’t even mention what it would be like to walk under the resulting even wider viaduct, perhaps they want everyone to drive and not walk. And it undermines any attempt to promote going thru Providence by alternatives such as the passenger rail from Wickford Jct to Boston, soon to stop in Pawtucket. For $265 million we can run the RIPTA buses fare-free for a decade or more and build out and connect all the planned bike routes. It is incredible that in this day and age of climate crisis, failing land use goals, and the need to reduce driving even in the state’s Long Range Transportation Plan, RIDOT’s 1950s thinking still wants to greatly widen an expressway right in the heart of a historic city. Sad!

  2. Thank you, barry, for that excellent rebuke. You of all people shouldn’t be surprised by this project in this day and age. RIDOT has been promoting this project for nearly 15 years. I know that I heard about the collector lane when I was Transportation Chair of the RI Sierra Club way back when. The old guard wants their gleaming roadways. You can see their thinking on the new bridges spanning 6/10 connector. The community has paid tens of thousands for "bridge balconies" so that pedestrians can stop and watch the traffic below. Do you think any of those engineers have spent any time on those bridges, not in a car. As a pedestrian, the crossings are over explosively loud alleyways filled with noxious fumes. Most people want to pass over the roadways as quickly as possible. And yet, we have balconies.

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