PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One of the biggest public works projects in Rhode Island history is about to get underway.
The state’s top transportation official tells Eyewitness News the 6-10 Connector overhaul will be even bigger than the massive Iway project that relocated the 195/95 split and opened up acres of prime downtown land for redevelopment.
The 6-10 Connector is a vital piece of infrastructure to Rhode Island’s economy. It connects Cranston with Providence and links Interstates 95 and 295. Its bridges are some of the busiest in the state. They’re also among those in the worst condition, and transportation officials say they could become a safety hazard if nothing is done.
Opened in the 1950s, the 6-10 needed its first major repairs 30 years ago. But Peter Alviti, director of the R.I. Department of Transportation, says that never happened.
“Because of poor planning and lack of funding, it has just been one of those things that has become the can that got kicked down the road,” Alviti said.
And now that vital infrastructure is crumbling away. “Fifteen years ago they had to shore up sections of Route 6 and 10 with braces,” Alviti said. “And those braces themselves that were put in place are beginning to decay.”
Last May, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced her RhodeWorks plan while standing under one of the 6-10 Connector’s bridges. That was no coincidence; RIDOT estimates about 10% of the plan’s $4.8 billion, 10-year budget will go to fixing the 6-10.
RIDOT’s original proposal would completely rebuild the existing infrastructure. According to RIDOT, the agency would have to replace nine bridges in just over one mile of highway. Work would begin in late 2018 and last roughly six years, all with a price tag of about $400 million.
But before construction begins, a new idea has emerged that could completely change the look of the 6-10 and the West End of Providence.
Instead of rebuilding the existing highway with its bridges, Johnson & Wales University design professor Jonathan Harris envisions “two lanes of cars, two lanes of buses with passing lanes and terminals, real bus stops and two more lanes of cars, two lanes of bicycles and then pedestrians and development.”
Harris is part of a group called Moving Together PVD that’s pushing the idea of transforming the 6-10 Connector into a boulevard with side streets and a rapid bus transit line. He says the plan would reconnect neighborhoods divided by the highway and cost less than rebuilding as is.
“We’re looking at a green infrastructure that uses alternative transportations,” Harris said. “We get the cars and we get connections back to the neighborhoods, and we get about 70 acres of re-developable land on this side of the city.”
State Sen. Paul Jabour, a Democrat who represents the West End, says that part of the city desperately needs a catalyst to help it move in the right direction. “We want to reinvigorate Federal Hill,” he said. “We want to create a real system of getting in and out of our neighborhoods.”
Jabour told Eyewitness News he thinks the boulevard plan could be the answer. “So this may be the time where we try to connect it all, on how we route and we pass through a city that I think desperately needs a fix with the 6-10 Connector,” he said.
Alviti said his working groups are looking at the 6-10 as a blank page and have even discussed a concept similar to the boulevard proposal. It would keep lanes for vehicles but add another component that was never looked at in the past: space for public transportation.
“We’re looking at all of those as possibilities,” Alviti said. “Maybe actually in combination with each other.”
Alviti said he recognizes the significance of the 6-10 Connector project for Providence and the entire state and maintained his department will consider every option. “It is something that only comes along once in many decades,” he says. “We want to make sure that we get right.”
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is holding a community forum on the future of the 6/10 Connector project Wednesday evening in the Doorley Municipal Building downtown.