Greater City Providence

PBN: Would dredging return bustle to riverfront?

Last dredged in the 1990s, the river is now so shallow in places that even the Proud Mary has to dance around obstructions and can’t reach Waterplace Park at low tide. “I know where all those difficult places are, but north of Point Street you can run aground virtually any time,” McGinn said. “I just have to be careful and cannot go into Waterplace Park basin when it’s real low.”

Preventing the river from filling in with natural sediment requires periodic dredging, something neither the city nor state has been eager to finance in recent years. The federal government declined to tap a pool of funds set aside for dredging projects that maintain cargo shipping channels.

As a result, much of the center and eastern side of the river is too shallow for boats even at midtide and the WaterFire lightings must be planned around tidal schedules and closures of the hurricane barrier to keep water inside.

Now the depth of the river and role marine traffic should play in the revitalization of downtown has become a discussion point again as the state begins construction of new public spaces on the former Interstate 195 land.

What if traffic in the Woonasquatucket looked like this?:

“Amsterdam Canals: It’s busy on the Prinsengracht” © Peter Eijking

I have to agree with the Planning Department, raising the pedestrian bridge is not going to solve anything when the height of the bridges upstream and downstream are the same or less. The river needs dredging, not simply for navigation, but for asthetics, it is revolting when those sad sandbars reveal themselves in Waterplace.

As for ‘water-taxi’ service to Newport… Remember when the fast ferry crashed into the hurricane barrier on its maiden voyage. We’re much better off having the ferry (if we can ever fund such a thing) run from India Point with robust land based circulator sevice to get passengers to and from the dock (and hopefully other amenties that might develop around the docks).

Perhaps if/when development on the East Providence waterfront takes off, a system of smaller water-taxi boats could ply the waters between East Providence and maybe as far up the river as Waterplace, with proper dredging.

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.


  • Without plans to prevent sediment (mostly sand spread on streets in winter) from entering the river, dredging will need to be continuous.

  • Finally! I’ve been waiting for this discussion for years! Providence has such potential with its waterways, I’ve always wondered why Pawtucket and Providence don’t have a frequent water taxi between Division/Water St. and the City. It would be very supportive of the Pawtucket renaissance…maybe they could do the trip by water instead of by bus some of the time? There should also be a connection to the JWU Harborside campus, East Greenwich, Newport, and Narragansett State Pier 5 (at least in the Summer). Internally, narrowboats and water shuttles/taxis could bring people west to Olneyville and help development there, and north to “Bowen Street Landing” at Bowen Street (modern Roger Williams Park) in front of The Cove. The packet ship Lady Carrington used to come down on the Blackstone Canal and seafaring ships would actually come that far north on the river. The City could rent slips and dockspace to privately owned boats to promote urban watercraft ownership and drive revenue/monitoring of the waterways. A privately owned water line connecting Narragansett Bay’s marinas could ferry people into the City at night to frequent shops, restaurants, and shows — the population of Rhode Island that lives within a short drive, bike ride, or walk to a marina is very large. Taking people off the roads and putting them on the river will make a small dent in relieving congestion, but probably not large enough to be a real argument — I think the reason we should be taking this serious is because it would truly make Providence a very European feeling City… and separate it from the bunch. A “big idea” like this may be something that drives more people to live downtown, that’s really what is the game changer for the City — increasing the downtown population will reinvigorate the City. I’d love to attend some meetings related to the waterways if anyone has info — we need someone to draft a bond referendum for the next election because we all know that Rhode Islanders say YES to every opportunity to spend money! Viva Big Ideas!

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