RI, city leaders unveil final 6/10 Connector plan

$400M project targets nine bridges that weave through Providence neighborhoods

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State and city leaders on Thursday unveiled their final plan for fixing the decaying Route 6/10 Connector bridges, arguing the revamped $400-million proposal will improve highway safety while enhancing the neighborhoods around the 1.6-mile expressway.

Gov. Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and R.I. Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti made the announcement three months after Raimondo ordered the 6/10 plan to be finalized by the end of the year due to safety concerns. Her decision drew criticism from activists who want the bridges converted into a surface-level boulevard, and Elorza proceeded to develop an alternative concept.

Officials said the final 6/10 plan incorporates some of the city’s ideas, adding 1.4 miles of new bike paths, creating new pedestrian walkways, and opening up 4.8 acres of real estate by eliminating the Harris Avenue on-ramp. A connection between Route 10 North and Route 6 West will be added, while about half of the Huntington Avenue Viaduct bridge that goes over the Amtrak train tracks will be demolished. The total number of 6/10 bridges will be reduced.

“This design meets many of the goals laid out during several community meetings,” Elorza said. He added: “This is a major project – $400 million that cut right through the heart of the city. … Whatever we build now, this is a legacy we’re leaving behind.”

The Fix the 6/10 Coalition, a group of community organizations and activists who had criticized RIDOT’s initial plans to rebuild the interchange largely as is, welcomed the redesign Thursday and thanked the leaders involved for listening to their concerns.

“Through our campaign and the exemplary efforts of city staff over the past months, we are pleased to see that the proposed plan is much improved,” Seth Zeren, a spokesman for Fix the 6/10, said in a statement. “While there are certainly aspects of the new plan which could be improved, we recognize the need for pragmatic compromise to help move our city and state forward.”

RIDOT plans to advertise a design-build contract for the project next month and put it out to bid by the spring, with construction starting in the fall. The entire project is supposed to be complete by September 2022.

“This is a prime example of what good things can happen when we collaborate,” Raimondo said.

Most of the nine 6/10 bridges were built in the 1950s, and RIDOT says they carry around 100,000 vehicles a day. Seven of the bridges are currently classified as structurally deficient, with RIDOT officials saying they’re especially concerned about the safety of the Huntington Viaduct.

The estimated $400 million cost to pay for the 6/10 project was included in the $4.7-billion RhodeWorks law passed earlier this year by the General Assembly. The measure calls for funding bridge projects through new tolls on trucks, scheduled to start next year, and borrowing against future federal aid.

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A RIDOT rendering of what the new 6/10 Connector will look like.

RIDOT released the following summary of the changes made in the new plan:

Approximately half of the length of the Huntingdon Viaduct will be demolished – RIDOT agreed to demolish half the length of the Huntingdon Viaduct and replace it with roadway surfaces. This will greatly diminish the visual obstruction between Olneyville and the West End neighborhoods of Providence.

1.4 miles of new bike paths & 2 new bicycle/pedestrian connections over Amtrak – RIDOT agreed to construct two new pedestrian/bike connections over Amtrak, one at Olneyville and one a newly rebuilt Tobey Street overpass. The current overpass does not allow for bike/pedestrian travel. In addition, new bike path will be constructed connecting the Washington Secondary Bike Path in Cranston to Broadway bike lanes and the Woonasquatucket River Greenway bike path.

Missing move will be included – RIDOT will include the “missing” Route 10 North to Route 6 West connection in the new plan, relieving Olneyville.

Harris Avenue crossing merge eliminated – The new plan will eliminate the cross over merge at the Harris Avenue on-ramp, allowing Harris Avenue traffic to access Route 10 South without the need to cross over Route 6 West traffic. Access from Harris to Route 6 West will also be maintained.

4.8 acres of real estate created – The City of Providence agreed to the elimination of the Harris Avenue on-ramp, opening up acres of additional real estate for development. In addition, acres of real estate will be opened for development based on the new profile of the exchange.

Improved gateway aesthetics – The new plan also includes a lighting arrangement similar to that used on the Sakonnet River Bridge. These improved aesthetics will create a signature entranceway to Providence from Route 6 and 10.

“We will create a new infrastructure to improve the flow of traffic, give drivers the missing move to 6 West, and modify the geometry of the roads to make driving easier and eliminate the challenges people now face,” Alviti said. The missing connection will reduce traffic congestion in Olneyville Square, officials said.

Elorza said the idea of turning the 6/10 system into a surface-level boulevard, or the so-called “halo” option he had floated in October, didn’t appear to work once traffic studies were conducted, particularly for big-rig trucks. “It just couldn’t be,” he said.

Raimondo said she is confident the 6/10 bridges are in decent enough shape to continue to be used until construction is complete in 2022, but said part of her motivation for speeding up the product was so RIDOT could stop spending roughly $4.5 million a year on interim repairs to the spans.

“We wouldn’t be leaving these open if they weren’t safe, and we’re going to continue to reinforce them,” she said.

RIDOT officials also said they will once again seek additional federal funding for the 6/10 after an earlier application was denied, this time asking for money to carry out a request by the city to reconfigure the Dean Street on-ramp.

A city rendering of highlights from the new 6/10 Connector plan.
A city rendering of highlights from the new 6/10 Connector plan.
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A RIDOT rendering of changes planned for the 6/10 interchange area.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram