Greater City Providence

I want it all

Photo (cc) CCCPxokkeu

The Woonsocket Patch has news this week about State Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt’s desire to see commuter rail service re-established to Woonsocket. Woonsocket has a rich rail history which formerly connected the city to Providence, Worcester, Hartford, and Boston. Sadly, the last passenger trains departed Woonsocket in the 1960s.

Badeli Hunt would like to see rail service return to Woonsocket and has asked Senator Reed to secure federal transportion funds, which were rejected by Florida’s Governor, and bring those funds to Rhode Island for Woonsocket commuter rail service.

“In addition to putting existing resources to better use, taking cars off a congested route, and better enabling northern Rhode Islanders to access employment and other opportunities in Providence, a commuter rail would undoubtedly have a positive impact on Main Street, Woonsocket, bringing commuters who will be looking for the convenience of nearby shopping, dining and other services,” said Baldelli Hunt (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket) in the letter, a copy of which, her offices report, was also sent to the governor.

Of course this is not the first time commuter rail service to Woonsocket has been brought up. The city of Woonsocket, in conjunction with RIDOT, the Pawtucket Foundation (Woonsocket commuter rail would operate through Pawtucket), and others have been studying the restoration of rail service to the Blackstone Valley.

I am all about bringing rail service back to Woonsocket and wrote about it extensively here. So I applaud Rep. Baldelli Hunt for seeking to make it happen, however:

Baldelli Hunt said her interest in the idea was re-ignited this week by news that the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is considering a two-mile streetcar system in Providence at an estimated cost of $76 million.

The representative offered the commuter rail as an alternative to the streetcar system, saying, “starting a commuter rail service on existing track connecting the urban core of Woonsocket to Providence, where many area residents work, would be a far more effective use of transportation funding than a short and expensive new streetcar route in an area already well-served by public transportation.”

Emphasis added

OK, let’s slow down a minute. First, the Florida money deadline is well past, maybe why Rep. Baldelli Hunt thinks she needs to take our streetcar money. Second, we haven’t been awarded the Florida money, and there is no garantee we will be awarded it. Third, I’ve already explained why a streetcar in Providence is a good investment.

Fourth, why does this have to be Providence vs. Woonsocket, streetcar vs. commuter rail, north vs. south? Why is it a foreign concept for anyone to imagine that we migtht be able to have both a streetcar in Providence and commuter rail to Woonsocket?

We didn’t sit and argue over whether we would rebuild the Pawtucket River Bridge or the Sakonnet River Bridge, there was never any doubt that we would rebuild both. We don’t spend any time debating whether Route 10 or Route 146 will be plowed in the winter, we always plow both. Quonset Park Access Road or Iway, both duh!

Why is it impossible for our representatives in the Assembly to Imagine a Rhode Island where we have both a Providence Streetcar and Woonsocket Commuter Rail? Don’t we deserve both?

“The need for such a service is readily apparent every rush hour on Route 146, where traffic is often at a standstill for miles between its intersection with Route 146A and as far away as the State Police barracks in Lincoln. If even a relatively small number of cars along that route were taken off the road by newly minted train commuters, congestion, pollution and road maintenance costs would all be eased,” [Baldelli Hunt] wrote in the letter [to Senator Reed].

And wouldn’t those rail commuters love to step off the train and onto a streetcar to take them to their jobs at Brown or Rhode Island Hospital or in the Jewelry District?

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt doesn’t get it.

    Without a streetcar interconnecting all of Downtown Providence’s employment hubs, the commuter rail that the Representative so desires between Providence and Woonsocket would fail or have mediocre success at best. There are roughly 55,000 jobs within a five-minute walk of the proposed Core Connector streetcar route.

    The Blackstone Valley suburban region has a population of around 200,000, which does warrant a commuter rail system, but to succeed it would need to include the other Blackstone Valley cities and towns with at least a half dozen other commuter rail stations. Why should a single city of 41,000 trump the state’s largest and most concentrated employment center?

    I agree with Jef, there is room for both initiatives.

    To reduce the traffic problem on 146, the Honorable Representative might try using RIPTA instead of contributing to traffic in a car.

  • Rep. Baldelli Hunt is doing her job, which is to serve her constituents, but it is still the Rhode Island General Assembly, not the Woonsocket General Assembly. Try to steal some money from another state if you can, but don’t pit regions within Rhode Island against each other.

    The success of the core connector and Blackstone Valley Commuter rail would be symbiotic. I wish all the urban reps were less balkanized when it came to metropolitan-wide issues such as transportation.

  • I commend both Rep Baldelli-Hunt for raising this issue, and those posting above for general support, but there needs to be an understanding of how limited the $$ are and how there is a long wish-list for transportation projects in our state. In the rail area, this includes commuter rail stops in Cranston and East Greenwich, extensions of commuter service south to Kingston, building an Amtrak stop at T F Green, and fixing deficiencies at Providence Station. The state is hiring a consultant to develop a state rail plan to help prioritize.

    There will be oppostion to spending money on rail, for example last night at a Transportation Advisory Committee meeting (TAC) the rep from the highway contractors objected to even mentioning “rail” in a letter the TAC ws considering sending to the legisalture about transportation funding.

    I suggest those hoping to see commuter rail in the Blacktone Valley help in the effort to increase the funding stream for transportation generally, and support efforts in Pawtucket to re-establish a MBTA commuter stop there, absolutely essential if the Woonsocket service is ever to materialize. Blackstone Valley folk might also want to help get funding for the Blackstone Bikeway extensions to Pawtucket and to downtown Woonsocket.

  • The roads need to be repaired first. The state needs to take care of their current responsibilities before moving on to bigger, more complex, and pricier endeavors. The last thing we need is another money sink that will serve a niche role. Why not expand service to the already-existing RIPTA rather than construct an entire new mode of transportation? These are all legitimate questions of mine. Maybe I’m just ignorant.

  • I’m pretty sure the Florida rail money in question in not commuter rail eligible (Amtrak, yes), and yes, the deadline for seeking a piece of that returned money was in early April.

  • The last I read Amtrak’s latest plan for a bullet train between Boston and New York didn’t even include Providence, but instead included Woonsocket.

    Are they nuts? Woonsocket? Seriously, WOONSOCKET? Living in Cranston, I would definitely consider taking a bullet train to NYC or Washington D.C. from Warwick or even Providence. But there is no way in hell I am driving to Woonsocket to catch it.

    But I also agree that the state needs to continue to work on changing the way we fund our roads and bridges, instead of paying debt on expensive projects that are way too overdue. Saying that you “want it all” is simply not realistic. You wan’t to borrow even more money from the Chinese to pay for it?

    Seriously, I gave never really considered moving further south. However, the overall condition of the state, including the roads and infrastructure are so bad, not to mention the economy, that it’s looking better and better. Last week I stayed in Maryland for a few days and the condition of their entire infrastructure simply made RI look like a backwater state.

  • “You wan’t to borrow even more money from the Chinese to pay for it?”

    Sure! Interest rates are near zero. No better time to borrow. Putting people to work building infrastructure that supports a modern economy is our best shot at avoiding national collapse and utter bankruptcy.

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