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UPDATED: PPS: General Electric Base Plant Demolition Proposal

ge-plant

Image from Bing Maps

Update 4pm: The demolition has been approved on a technicality, we’re waiting on PPS to issue a statement and will post it when they do.
This post originally appeared on the Providence Preservation Society’s website. Reposted with permission.
Now I’m being told this afternoon’s meeting is canceled.

A special meeting of the Providence Historic District Commission will be held on Monday, May 5, at 4:15 pm at 444 Westminster to vote on a demolition application for the General Electric Base Plant complex at 586 Atwells Avenue. Built c. 1916, the GE Base Plant stands as a fine expression of post-World War I industrial architecture, and according to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission the plant was once the largest producer of lamp bases in the world – employing 500 people at the Atwells Avenue site.

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Mayoral Candidate Brett Smiley statement on demolition of Adie House

Candidate for Providence Mayor, Brett Smiley sent us this statement on the demolition of the historic Alexander F. Adie House on Federal Hill.

brett-smileyYesterday, demolition began on the 1871 Alexander F. Adie House on Atwells Avenue, an historic building lining the streets of one of Providence’s most vibrant neighborhoods. There are supposed to be plans for a hotel in its place. As a community we need to remain vigilant to ensure that this site does not turn into another ‘temporary’ surface lot.

This is just the latest example of a repeated pattern – City Hall continues to turn a blind eye to the destruction of important historic buildings, and this disregard cannot continue. Too often, historic buildings are demolished or intentionally neglected until demolition becomes necessary and justified.

This isn’t just about preserving our history. It’s about strengthening our economy. Moving our economy forward doesn’t require bulldozing our history – it requires utilizing it. We should already have learned the lesson that historic preservation is economic development. Our significant and largely intact historic building stock is a critical part of what makes Providence a cultural center with a thriving tourism sector. Further, the upkeep, preservation and creative adaptive reuse of these buildings have a real multiplier effect throughout the local economy.

City Hall has a responsibility to step in to protect our history and to recognize its vital role in our economic well-being. But this responsibility, just like so many historic buildings throughout our city, has been neglected. As Mayor, I will make historic preservation an integral part of our city’s economic development strategy.

Brett Smiley
Providence

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Transport Providence: Petition for bike lanes on Westminster Street

westminster

Image from Google Streetview

This is a guest post by James Kennedy from Transport Providence.

The next mayor must re-envision our city streets by supporting protected bike lanes. Westminster on the West Side is the first place Providence should start the transformation.

Providence does not have cavernous streets like Los Angeles, but many of its streets are much wider than streets in other East Coast cities, but without bike infrastructure. While Philadelphia has buffered bike lanes that are eight feet wide on streets that are around twenty-four feet wide, there are no such lanes on the West Side’s Westminster Street, which is about forty feet wide. The excuse that we don’t have room for infrastructure that will make more people feel safe on bikes has to be set aside.

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Barry Schiller: State Rail Plan hearings, January 23, 2014

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Photo (cc) Providence Public Library

Barry Schiller, a retired Rhode Island College math professor, is a long-time member of the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee. He also was on the RIPTA Board of Directors 1995-1999.

Here is a chance to give your opinion on any railroad related issue in Rhode Island. In response to Federal incentives, RI is developing a State Rail Plan for both passenger and freight services. A draft is available on-line at Planning.ri.govpdf. There will be public hearings on this draft on Thursday, January 23 at 10am and 6:30pm at the Department of Administration Building in Providence.

The draft plan starts with state railroad history, explains the process for developing the plan, notes related Federal programs and previous studies, and inventories the existing situation. The plan goes on to identify various desirable goals related to safety, security, infrastructure condition, reliability, service levels, coordination with other agencies, economic activity, congestion reduction, environment, and financial feasibility, but perhaps the heart of it is with Chapter 10 “Rhode Island Rail Investment Program” which suggests implementation plans over a 20 year timeframe.

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Barry Schiller: Providence Planning Hosts Meeting on Kennedy Plaza, Downtown Circulation

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Barry Schiller, a retired Rhode Island College math professor, is a long-time member of the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee. He also was on the RIPTA Board of Directors 1995-1999.

Overall: good ideas on the parts of the project about 2-way streets and pedestrian and bike improvements around downtown, but on Kennedy Plaza, a net loss for bus riders, but not as much as once feared.

The project: extend 2-way on Empire, 2-way on Dorrance in front of the Biltmore, and on Exchange Terrace on north side of Burnside Park; narrow Fountain Street by widening sidewalk, maybe include a bike lane and add “public space” at the squares on both ends (La Salle Square, Emmet Square) to slow traffic and be much more pedestrian friendly;

Kennedy Plaza: no change in RIPTA waiting room but the adjacent plaza will have much more public space by eliminating the inner berths and bus lanes. Thus we’d go from 8 bus-only lanes to 4; possible amenities added such as more seating, plantings, public art, and maybe more shelters if funding permits. The 16 current bus berths there now (4 sets of 4 each) would be reduced to 10 – 4 eastbound on the north side, 5 (one more than now) westbound on the south side, and one new one on Exchange Street across from the court house. The loss of berths would be partly made up by another bus berth up the hill on the little street where the trolleys now stop, and another new berth behind the Q stop on Exchange St where the Newport buses stop. Thus there is a net loss of 4 berths. If more berths are ever needed, likely to be on north side of Burnside Park on Exchange Terrace, or up Exchange Street near Memorial Blvd by the undeveloped triangle of land there.

Unresolved issues: what to do with intercity Peter Pan/Greyhound buses; whether there will be a fence separating the bus lane from Washington Street traffic which could help direct pedestrian crossings; funding for more shelters; who is in charge of snow removal.

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Guest Post: A Trip to Newport; The Breakers Welcome Center

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The Breakers in Newport

An anonymous reader is taking the readers of Greater City Providence to Newport and laying out the proposal set forth by the Preservation Society of Newport County to construct a permanent welcome center on the grounds of the landmark property, The Breakers.

The city of Newport has long been the center of tourism for Rhode Island and much of southern New England. Known for its sandy beaches, sailing, historic architecture spanning three centuries, superb dining, art galleries, and historic landmarks, the city by the sea has welcomed millions seeking to explore, learn, relax, and to enjoy themselves. Tourism is on the rise and museums are in the midst of creating world-class visitor centers meant to provide the proper introduction to an institute, property, or collection. In late August 2012, an article published by the Newport Daily News announced plans by the Preservation Society of Newport County to construct a 3700 sq ft ‘welcome center’ on the grounds of The Breakers. Plans were not yet finalized; however, the Preservation Society had announced that the architectural firm of Epstein-Joslin of Cambridge, MA had been chosen to design a structure that would fit into the historic grove and landscape of the organization’s flagship property.

The intent is to clear away unsightly and temporary structures that house a ticketing venue, seasonal portable toilets, and a vending machine and replace them with a permanent structure. The new structure will house restrooms, café, and ticketing venue.

As the flagship property, The Breakers receives roughly half of the visitor attendance that the Society will see annually and collectively in a collection of eleven historic properties. That equals to nearly 400,000 visitors out of 800,000 that will tour the great mansion built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1893-1895. The Breakers is one of the top five most-visited house museums in America, among the notables: Biltmore, Monticello, and Mount Vernon. The Preservation Society is also one of the top four major cultural organizations in New England with the other three in Boston; the Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, and the Museum of Fine Arts. Comparing to other institutions, the accommodations at The Breakers is subpar.

The proposal, as announced, sparked a wave of letters sent to the Newport Daily News, Newport This Week, and the Providence Journal. Most were against the proposal in various tones, fearing business would be lost at area establishments that are dependent on tourism traffic to the mansions on Bellevue Avenue, while others pointed at historic preservation and the thought of the fabric of the landscape being forever ruined. Whatever the case may be, there are many reasons to not build a visitor center period, especially on the grounds of the mansion.

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Bike to Work Day – May 17, 2013

bikemonthThere are a lot of bicycle issues in Rhode Island including getting the shoulders of streets properly swept, providing more bike parking racks, finding funding to finish and connect various bike paths, identifying and signing appropriate bike routes, enforcing laws against dangerous driving, developing bike-share programs, and more generally creating a transportation culture that includes support and respect for bicycling. Progress is not easy on any of this.

One of the ways to help promote this agenda is the annual Bike to Work Day celebrations.

In Providence, this year Bike to Work Day festivities will be held in Burnside Park in Kennedy Plaza from 7am to 10am. If you can, stop by to call attention to, and to celebrate, this healthy, economic, environmentally friendly, and fun way to travel with fellow bicyclists and allies. There will be a free continental breakfast, vendors, bike related information and advocacy materials, and perhaps an announcement of a new bike initiative from Mayor Tavares who at last year’s event announced the formation of the Providence Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Check it out! Visit RIBike.org for updates. And don’t forget RIPTA’s bike racks can extend the range of travel.

This event is sponsored by the RI Bicycle Coalition.

Bike Newport is also celebrating the day in Newport, where Washington Square will welcome bicyclists from 6am to 9am. Later there will be a bike press conference at 3pm, a community ride at 4pm, and a mini-fair at 5pm. Visit BikeNewportri.org for more information.

Barry Schiller, a retired Rhode Island College math professor, is a long-time member of the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee. He also was on the RIPTA Board of Directors 1995-1999.
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Guest Post: Building streets

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Future Friendship Street

Jewelry District resident Lewis Dana sent us some photos and a bit of snarky commentary to go with them. Enjoy.

I don’t know much about building a new street, either. …

Based on this shot of the continuation of Friendship St., early on you dig large holes, drop in these storm sewer pipes and cover them up with dirt. If all goes well, the sanitary lines go in at the same time. Let everything settle for a year or so.

Then you come back, dig more trenches for water, gas and electric services, back fill them and pave everything over.

Then some wise guy asks, what about telephone and cable? So you send in new teams of workers who barricade the streets, jackhammer trenches through the new macadam, install cable and phone, and patch everything back up.

If you’re being fastidious, you make a smooth job of it. Judging by the bomb cratered condition of Chestnut Street, into which someone sawed a fiberoptic trench about 7 years ago, that is a faint hope. Traces of that havoc remain to this day all along Chestnut, which is not on the Mayor’s 40-million dollar street repair map.

When the dust settles, mostly on everything in our apartment, is it too much to hope that the Grafitti Patrol will stop by and remove the tags with which the contractors have embellished every sidewalk in the neighborhood?

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Guest post: Parking reform should start at the State House

historic-state-house

The State House with a lot less parking. Photo courtesy of the Providence Department of Planning & Development.

Reader James Kennedy writes about reforming parking at the State House. Follow James on Twitter: @TransportPVD.

The State House is a great place to start reforming Providence’s parking crisis. The great map that Jef put up last April shows that the State House contributes considerably to the overwhelming of our downtown space by surface parking.

From the outset, 10% of State House parking lot space should be repurposed as a vegetable and flower garden, which could be run in private-public partnership with the Southside Community Land Trust. Repurposing State House parking will highlight one of the city’s best reasons for optimism, the Land Trust’s Lots for Hope program. Produce from the raised beds could be used to fill food banks around the state, or could be sold at Rhode Island’s farmers’ markets to return a modest revenue boost to the state budget.

The remaining spaces should no longer be free. Legislators and other State House employees should receive a transportation stipend, equal to the amount of money currently being spent on paving a parking spot for them to use. Those who continue to drive to the State House would not lose money, but they will at least be aware that parking is a fiscal choice. But many others will choose to save money by carpooling, taking transit, or biking to the capital. The plan will be revenue neutral to taxpayers, in that it will simply repurpose funds already being spent.

Parking demand will decrease if this plan is put in place, and as it does, the state should gradually remove more spaces to increase the area of the garden. As in Denmark, where cities have committed to remove 2-3% of parking spaces per year to reduce their carbon footprints, the State House could set a per year goal for removal of spots, with the eventual culmination of a parking lot half the size of the current one. The gradual pace of change will allow for other transportation options to be developed.

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Guest Post: Exit-stential Problems for Federal Hill & Smith Hill

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Dean Street interchange with Routes 6/10 center, Federal Hill to the left, Smith Hill to the right.

Reader James Kennedy writes about establishing better non-automobile connections between Federal Hill and Smith Hill. Follow James on Twitter: @TransportPVD.

Providence has too many highways, and I wouldn’t be an opponent of removing some entirely. But if we’re going to have a highway system snake through the city, let’s at least make it useful. The Dean Street exit ramps should be removed, in my opinion, and a multi-modal boulevard should replace the highway-let that the street currently is.

As a bike commuter, I hadn’t really experienced rush hour traffic on Routes 10 & 6 until I had the recent occasion to sit motionless on a school bus with the kids I was transporting from Nathan Bishop Middle School to Del Sesto M.S., for a basketball game. It seemed an oddly short route to have to be taking a highway, I thought, and seeing how traffic was, I thought I’d probably could have gotten the kids faster there on bikes moving down local streets.

The Dean Street exit can’t possibly be doing any motorists any favors. It’s only a stone’s throw from several other exits in Smith Hill, Federal Hill, and Downcity.

When we design a highway, it’s supposed to be fast. With so many exits, we’re encouraging people to use the highway for local travel, and that’s probably a big part of why speeds at rush hour are so slow. If you’re only going from Downcity to Federal Hill, or from Smith Hill to Federal Hill, you don’t need a highway to get you there. The nearest I could possibly imagine someone needing to have an exit on the highway from Downcity would be somewhere near the edge of town along the Cranston border. Having all these tiny little exits scattered everywhere makes the highway useless for it’s stated purpose.

If that was the only problem to having exit ramps on Dean Street, maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal. But the ramps are huge, and eat up prime real estate in Federal Hill that could be developed. With a generous tree sound buffer planted between it and the highway, the remaining land from the former exit could become a new section of historic Federal Hill, designed to be walkable and small business-friendly.

Once, on a whim, my partner and I took Exchange Street from where it intersects with Sabin, to see whether it was a bikeable route. It was beautiful until we got to Dean Street, and then it felt almost like there was nowhere to go. Exchange Street could be carried through this new neighborhood as a bike-friendly route, and bring Federal Hill a tourist-friendly connection to the convention center area.

Providence doesn’t have all that many options for traveling between Smith Hill and Federal Hill, so Dean Street is also a prime target for change because of how important it could be to connect multimodal transportation between the two as yet alienated neighborhoods. Dean Street is wide enough that it could maintain a car connection north-south over the highway, while bus-only lanes and protected bike lanes could be put into a new Dean Street bridge to speed traffic for non-car users.

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Guest Post: Snow removal, “not my job.”

A reader submits photos and commentary on common snow removal issues along North Main. Just a little extra effort would save hundreds of people from huge inconvenience and safety concerns.

Here are some snowy sidewalk pics that illustrate the not-my-job mindset. I am glad the long sidewalk along North Burial Ground on North Main Street has been getting plowed lately, although when the snow is deep enough to bog down their little tractor, they simply fuggedaboutit. But how hard would it be to drive that little tractor a few yards farther along and clear the traffic island at Cemetary Street?

NBG_Cem

On a side note, this intersection is a fine example of inappropriate high-speed design. Oh yeah, there is a stop sign, but most drivers scoot right on through and merge into N. Main at full speed, with heads turned left to check approaching traffic as if they were at a highway on-ramp instead of a crosswalk. Also, note how the sidewalk on the traffic island is where the plow driver who clears the lawyer’s lot dumps snow.

NBG_branch

I guess it a dead-serious matter of turf and good fences between Parks Dept and Public Works, (or RIDOT? Or the Feds? N Main is US 1, you know) that keeps the Parks Dept. tractor from plowing all the way to Branch Ave. It might take 90 seconds and cause huge paperwork and budget issues.

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Guest Post: Demolishing of a block in Olneyville

Photos and commentary provided by a Greater City Providence reader.

Tired of those pesky real estate taxes, then tear down a block on Plainfield Street between Dyke and Atwood Streets just off Olneyville Square. What will replace those buildings, surface parking? How many more buildings will see the wrecking ball before the Olneyville’s historic mill district loses its historic status?

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Reader Rant: Urban design by traffic engineers

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Update: This project was done by the City without the involvement of RIDOT, which makes the entire situation worse actually.

Urban Design by RIDOT! Was the City complicit? I’m almost at a loss for words about the thoughtlessness in locating a new traffic signal control box within a public plaza in Olneyville Square. If this happened in Wayland Square instead, there would be protest demonstrations. The photos speak for themselves regarding alignment and adjacencies to building frontages and the information kiosk. How many 10’s of thousands or dollars did they spend on this piece of junk? Is this urban design by traffic engineers? This is as bad as when they place signal arm pole bases in the center of sidewalks so that people have to walk in the street. There should be a law against this. Or better yet the Design Review Commission should review all RIDOT installations within the City. Since Olneyville is a less affluent neighborhood, I suppose we should expect this new control box to sit where it is for the next 40 or 50 years. I guess the consolation is that there are new fake old streetlights.

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Comments on NEC Future

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Photo (cc) Sean_Marshall

The Federal Railroad Adminstration (FRA) is running a planning program dubbed NEC Future to determine the future path of rail development in the Northeast Corridor running from Boston to Washington. Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard submitted the following comments to the FRA in response to the study’s request for public comment.

Content Summary

  1. Construct a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station
  2. NEC High Speed Rail (HSR) bypass between East Haven and Westerly
  3. Reserve the option to construct a four-track NEC corridor in Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut, as well as between Providence and Westwood
  4. Develop Providence to Cape Cod Rail Service using an existing corridor
  5. Develop Providence/Fall River/New Bedford interstate LRT
  6. Develop Providence to Worcester Commuter Rail Service
  7. New England track electrification and use of DMUs and EMUs
  8. Add multiple infill train stations within Providence’s urban core cities
  9. Develop Rhode Island Mainline Rail Transit
  10. Extend Train Service to Aquidneck Island
  11. New York to New Jersey – Penn Station New York to the Portal Bridge
  12. Penn Station New York to Grand Central connecting rail tunnel
  13. Extend the New York #7 Subway line to Hoboken Terminal
  14. Boston South Station to North Station connecting rail tunnel

1. Construct a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station
The study should include planning for a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station. Amtrak Regional service, as well as MBTA commuter trains could serve the station. Service models for this station would be the BWI Airport Station in Baltimore and Newark Airport Station in New Jersey.

2. NEC High Speed Rail (HSR) bypass between East Haven and Westerly
Study a HSR bypass option that would link the existing NEC between East Haven and Westerly following the routes I-95 and RI-78 corridor. This bypass would avoid excessively curved sections of eastern Connecticut’s legacy rail right-of-way, which would allow for significantly higher speeds for HSR service. This option could be a cost effective alternative to constructing a second completely new Southern New England HSR corridor from Westchester County through central Connecticut to Hartford and to Providence. There could be an opportunity to combine funding for a rail bypass and upgrading and increasing capacity to route I-95 simultaneously.

3. Reserve the option to construct a four-track corridor in Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as between Providence and Westwood
Amtrak has proposed creating a four-track rail corridor between Providence to Westwood. Other sections of Rhode Island’s NEC rail segment south of Providence had the corridor width to accommodate four tracks. Also many bridges had been designed to allow for four tracks throughout the state. When the New Haven to Boston NEC segment was electrified in the 1990s, replacement tracks were installed off-center in much of Rhode Island to allow for the tilting feature on Acela trains.

Develop an alternate that would reserve the option to re-build Rhode Island’s NEC rail segment south of Providence Station to four-tracks and if a HSR bypass is not planned for or constructed between East Haven and Westerly in Eastern Connecticut, to accommodate for future expanded track usage of high-speed and regional trains, commuter rail/mass-transit, and freight service. A Rhode Island four-track corridor would typically only require the acquisition of narrow strips of land adjacent to the existing corridor to meet current standards for high-speed track centers, while in other instances no land acquisition would be necessary.

Even if four tracks are not built in Rhode Island or Connecticut for decades, planning for a their future installation would insure that other federal and state funds will not be wasted when infrastructure, such as bridges are constructed or replaced over the NEC. With the current offcenter track configuration in Rhode Island, off-center abutments or column placements for new bridges could make future track expansion problematic and unnecessarily expensive.

4. Develop Providence to Cape Cod Rail Service using an existing corridor
Develop year-round rail service from Cape Cod to Providence, T.F. Green Airport, and beyond to New York. Service could be provided by Amtrak or alternately by a commuter rail agency from Cape Cod to Providence and T.F. Green with connections to Amtrak. Study the reuse of the existing rail right-of-way from Providence to Attleboro to Cape Cod.

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Reader Submission: No joy at the DMV

FAILThough Governor Chafee made a great show of improving the DMV early in his term, we still hear no end of complaints about the agency. Below is an email a reader sent us about her recent experience:

I spent an hour on hold where a single sentence repeats over and over and over just to get to a voicemail box of an employee in the communications department?

I need my vehicle title returned. There seems to be an online database that I could use to accomplish this task, but can’t access without paying a huge amount of money. Why restrict it? So many of your customers could be using online tools instead of perpetually unavailable personnel to solve their problems.

I paid to register my car and my title was sequestered. Now I need to pay to recover it? And waste hours of my time to get no service whatsoever?

Your service is so terrible that dealing with you is the most dreaded errand of any errand. I’d rather spend a day cleaning toilets with a toothbrush than visit your offices. At least I would know that my goal was something that could be accomplished.

You have a new building, and NOTHING has improved except for your lobby. You should have stayed in Pawtucket, hired 10 more people for customer service, and 5 people to put any service possible online for FREE.

How have your experiences at the DMV been of late? Better? Worse? You wish you were dead so you’d never have to go there again?

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Barry Schiller: On the Draft New 4-Year TIP – Public Hearing April 26

Providence Viaduct

Underneath the Providence Viaduct. Photo © RIDOT

Barry Schiller, a retired Rhode Island College math professor, is a long-time member of the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee. He also was on the RIPTA Board of Directors 1995-1999.

The draft 2013-2016 RI Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), a plan to spend about $1.1 billion, has been released by Statewide Planning. In print, it is at least 120 pages! This is because it includes a description of the process, analysis of financing, environmental justice, air quality, its various program components (such as bridge, Interstate, transit, safety) and a detailed compilation of the various funding sources. Despite some uncertainty about future legislation, it essentially assumes level Federal funding.

My overall assessment is that it basically continues current policies: improving infrastructure through the bridge (about $42 million/year) and pavement management programs ($30 million/yr); finishing major projects; traffic safety (e.g. striping, signalization $31 million/yr;) transit ($46 million/year.) There is little system expansion.

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Barry Schiller: Providence Streetcar on Life Support?

Dark Road

Photo (cc) José Mamona

Barry Schiller, a retired Rhode Island College math professor, is a long-time member of the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee. He also was on the RIPTA Board of Directors 1995-1999.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that prospects for building the proposed College Hill – Hospitals/South Providence streetcar, a $127 million project, are fading.

RIPTA itself has clearly stated they won’t fund the project out of their existing revenue stream, already inadequate for maintaining its bus system. Their initial proposal for the next four year TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) being developed did suggest $2.5 million in FY2013 for the streetcar’s next phase of preliminary engineering an design. This is only about 1/3 the cost, the rest to be paid for by someone else. But since expected capital funds were inadequate for their original plan, RIPTA then modified this proposal to allocate only $1.5 million on streetcar design spread out later over 2014 and 2015. RIPTA understandably does not want to spend any more money on this unless the political process comes up with a funding source to design, build, and operate the streetcar. Indeed it seems there must be a financial plan to do this to get any more Federal dollars for this project. But the city of Providence, its big institutions, local property owners, and the state and Federal governments are all under financial stress and I see little prospect that any of them will step up to pay for the streetcar in any big way.

My take on the streetcar at last week’s RIPTA Board meeting is that RIPTA leaders expect to conclude the corridor study by selecting the streetcar as the locally preferred alternative, but then it will likely just sit there until there is a funding mechanism. Further diminishing its prospects is the resignation of Thomas Deller, as Chair of the RIPTA Board of Directors, which removes the foremost streetcar advocate from a position of leadership at RIPTA.

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