'It is difficult, but... there will be a great outcome.'
IN TRANSIT: The Providence Viaduct carries Interstate 95 past downtown, over Route 6 and the Woonasquatucket River and north toward Pawtucket. The bridge is slated for a $169 million reconstruction.
You don’t need a $179 million bridge-replacement project to cause traffic jams on Interstate 95 in downtown Providence. The car volume and traffic patterns on the stretch of highway between the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and the Statehouse do that already.
So it would be natural if business owners closest to the Providence Viaduct, the creaking 1,300-foot-span home to some of the worst traffic in the state, were wary of plans to spend six years replacing the structure in a way that isn’t expected to solve the congestion issues.
But in what may be a sign of how familiar Rhode Islanders may have become with roadwork on I-95, business reaction to the recent announcement that work on the Providence Viaduct replacement project is set to start next spring has been mostly positive.
“I look at it like pregnancy – pain with a purpose,” said Kelly Coates, senior vice president of Carpionato Group LLC, which owns the Harris Avenue property on which the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse sat before it was torn down, one of three pieces of private property that the state says will be directly touched by the construction.
“It is difficult, but when you get through it there will be a great outcome,” said Coates, adding that state transportation officials have been in recent contact with the company over the project. “I think the key impact is that if I-95 is not corrected, you won’t be able to utilize it and all of the property values in the area will be affected.”
The Providence Viaduct, actually three separate spans carrying I-95 over, among other things, West Exchange Street, railroad tracks, Providence Place and the Woonasquatucket River, is deteriorating to the point that pieces of concrete have begun falling off.
Although still safe in the short term, the Viaduct has been identified as a priority by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which awarded a $10 million federal grant to get work started within the year.
“We absolutely support the project – the worst thing you could do is do nothing,” said Daniel Boudoin, executive director of The Providence Foundation, the business-backed group focused on bringing economic activity to downtown, especially the Capital Center. “I think R.I. Department of Transportation has a pretty good track record. They did a good job with the I-195 relocation project and did a good job of reaching out and keeping everyone informed.”
The Providence Foundation is heading up efforts to coordinate communication between DOT and businesses closest to the project, Boudoin said.