Planning & Development

Burying Rhode Island’s 6/10 Big Dig

by Josh Wood Saturday July 9, 2016

Rhode Island, the Highway State
Rhode Island Department of Transportation has learned that it lost its bid for a $175-million federal FASTLANE grant to rebuild the Route 6/10 Connector, and that’s probably good news for Rhode Islanders.

Despite the appearance of three options for the rebuild, RIDOT’s preferred plan was the massive, $1 billion dollar “Big Dig” proposal. The plan, which includes a makeover of the dilapidated highway, the addition of a network of freestanding bus rapid transit stations, and a new tunnel over the interchange, looked like it was in cruise control.

The 6/10 Connector project is outside of RIDOT’s comfort zone
In an era where city planners, backed by the US Department of Transportation, take every opportunity to replace urban highways with more efficient, transportation-friendly, and cost-effective networks, RIDOT’s “Big Dig” plan looks like a throwback to the 1950s. Typical of Eisenhower-era highway systems, RIDOT’s approach benefits long distance commuters at the expense of the residents who bear the brunt of living near the highway. It’s an antiquated, suburbs-first philosophy.

One of the biggest issues with RIDOT’s “Big Dig” proposal is a matter of maintenance. Not only does the proposal call for rebuilding the existing infrastructure – but it also suggests covering that rebuilt infrastructure with even more complicated infrastructure. We can’t afford to maintain the highway as it is. Now imagine adding a tunnel on top of it. I know, frightening. If you hadn’t noticed, Rhode Island has plenty of Kia-eating potholes and swiss cheese bridges braced by wooden planks as it is. It would seem prudent to simplify the project, not complicate it.

Almost transparent
To RIDOT’s credit, the transparency of the agency has increased since the dark days of the 90s when concerned citizens formed the group “DOT Watch” to keep the agency in check. If this were 1991, Rhode Island’s “Big Dig” would’ve already gone out to bid. Still, the agency was criticized for it’s public vetting process this Spring; a process that seemed to preclude one of the project’s key stakeholders: residents along the 6/10 corridor.

What’s the hurry?
With the news of the failed grant bid, maybe we can slow this project down and build something smarter. Thankfully, Providence Planning seems to be leading that effort.

The final result of this project doesn’t have to be an engineering marvel. And instead of just a maintenance chore this can be a success story – one that can be added to the dozens of urban highway removal success stories worldwide. All the project needs is to work invisibly and equally for all, without being the eyesore that it is today.

RIDOT first needs to abandon its 1950s highway-first mentality and reframe this project in way that benefits more than just the suburban commuter. This isn’t just an artery to shuttle workers in and out of Providence. We’ve already got highways, roads, trains, and buses for that. This is an opportunity to heal a scar that has severed neighborhoods, hindered tax growth, and stymied development through a vast section of Rhode Island’s urban core.

Oh, and public contest, branding effort, whatever it takes – the name “Route 10” needs to die along with the philosophy that built it in the first place.

(But maybe not “Roady McRoadface.”)

Links to thoughts
Feds Reject 175 Million Grant for 6/10 Interchange Project [Providence Journal]
RIDOT 6/10 Connector Presentation
6/10 Design Proposal [Moving Together Providence]
RIDOT, City of Providence at Odds Over Future of 6/10 Connector [EcoRI]
RIDOT 6/10 Dig a Bad Deal for Rhode Island [WPRO]
Driver’s Argument for a 6/10 Boulevard [RI Future]
Providence Working Up Its Own 6/10 Redesign [Providence Journal]

Image: “Rebuilding & Reimagining: Route 6-10 Connector,” RI Department of Transportation


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