The state plans to speed up an overhaul of bridges along the 6/10 Connector because they’re deteriorating faster than expected and will eventually pose a safety risk, Governor Gina Raimondo announced Wednesday during a Statehouse news conference.
Raimondo says the state plans to spend $400 million from RhodeWorks, a state initiative to improve bridges, over the next few years to make urgent repairs to the highway overpass. State Department of Transportation officials said the work will take about four years from the time when contracts are awarded. (Read the DOT's analysis here.)
The governor said she decided the state will move immediately to replace the Huntington Avenue Bridge, which carries Route 6 over Amtrak tracks. She said the bridge rates only as a 19 on a condition scale of 100.
As a result, an envisioned boulevard concept for the 6/10 Connector is dead. Raimondo said she would have preferred more consideration of that concept, but said public safety has to come first.
“Like so many of the problems which I’ve inherited, if someone had taken action five, 10, 15, 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have such a big, urgent problem now," the governor told reporters. "I know this is the right thing to do with respect to public safety, and it’s time to make that decision and take action.”
According to the letter, dated August 15 from the Federal Highway Administration, concerning the Huntington Avenue Bridge, "[Our] technical opinion is that this bridge should receive a high priority for rehabilitation or replacement in your current bridge program to avoid further deterioration and significant use restrictions or closure."
Critics like transit activist James Kennedy mourned the ruling out of the boulevard concept for the 6/10 Connector. They said the boulevard would enhance a sense of place while opening possibilities for recreation and commercial and residential development.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said he has agreed to end the public-comment period on the future of the 6/10 Connector in 60 days, to aid with repairs to bridges on the Connector.
The repairs to bridges along the 6/10 Connector are not being made on an emergency basis, and the roadways will not require weight restrictions, Raimondo said.
State DOT Director Peter Alviti invoked a frequent theme, describing how partial plans have been drafted for 30 years for modernizing the 6/10 Connector, without follow-through or an adequate funding mechanism.
Raimondo said the good news in the situation is that money to make the fixes is available through the RhodeWorks measure passed earlier this year by the General Assembly.
Critics charged that planned truck tolls included in RhodeWorks will hurt the state's business climate. But Raimondo and other supporters said the funding is needed to fix bridges rated among the worst in the nation, and improving infrastructure will help the state's economy.
Raimondo and Alviti were joined in speaking during a news conference by Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Col. Steven O'Donnell of the State Police, and state EMA Director Peter Gaynor.