Let Providence Decide the Fate of Its Aging Highway Relic

Providence's 6/10 Connector is a relic of another time. Photo: MovingTogetherPVD
Providence’s 6/10 Connector is a relic of another time. Photo: MovingTogetherPVD

The campaign to remove a 1960s-era highway relic in Providence, Rhode Island, known as the 6/10 Connector looked like it could go the distance. Local advocates had built broad support for the idea of replacing the two-mile highway segment with an at-grade boulevard that makes room for transit and bicycling while mending the divide between neighborhoods.

But earlier this month, Governor Gina Raimondo tried to put the kibosh on the highway removal using safety as a pretext, saying bridges along the 6/10 Connector need to be rebuilt immediately.

Now Raimondo says she wants to hold a meeting to discuss a “compromise.” James Kennedy at Transport Providence remains wary of her intentions. Any real compromise, he writes, would not involve reconstructing the highway:

We all agree that the public should not be left at risk from unsafe bridges. If the Huntington Bridge is unsafe, it should be closed to trucks, and if necessary, to cars. Oddly, the bridges remain open to cars and trucks, and given the governor’s past record of conveniently finding unsafe bridges in the right place at the right time for her policy goals, it leaves the public suspicious. To be clear, I don’t think the suspicion should be about whether the bridges are in good condition or not. The suspicion is that concerns about safety are being manipulated in order to derail public opposition to the governor’s positions.

The public has favored the boulevard through the process. There have been rumblings of dissent from some quarters, but one should read between the lines of that dissent to see where it comes from. The Projo, for instance, recently ran an editorial praising the governor for her “smart decisions” on the 6/10 bridges. The editorial reads like, and probably is, a press release, and it gets a lot of the basic facts wrong. It says the governor is smart for saving money, since the surface boulevard is clearly more expensive (not true: see comments from RIDOT Dep. Director Peter Garino here). It also conflates the surface boulevard and the highway cap, which are two totally different plans. You can even look to sources like the comments section of the Projo for further evidence of this: some people do comment that they’d like the highway rebuilt as-is, but those people always cite cost. People who don’t follow the process closely have, like the Projo, gotten confused about what the highway cap is and how it differs from the boulevard, and so they assume the boulevard is more expensive. It doesn’t do justice to these people’s point of view to build the highway either, since what they’re stating is that they’d like the cheapest option. (It’s also, by the way, quite clear that a boulevard would best serve the needs of drivers, whether or not that point is realized by suburban mayors).

I’m in favor of completing the public process instead of fast-tracking anything, but I think that if there is a fast-track, that Providence Planning should be the decider of what that is. The governor held a press conference with four mayors, two of whose towns don’t have the 6/10 Connector (Mayors Lombardi and Avedisian of North Providence and Warwick, respectively), and one of whom was a mayor of a town where Route 6 W exists, but where no changes are proposed within the town’s borders (Mayor Polisena of Johnston). Providence is the only municipality that is actually affected by the 6/10 Connector, and it is the only municipality that has any right to make a decision on it. Having the mayors of Warwick and North Providence join the press conference was clearly a power-play by the governor, and if she doesn’t back off from these kinds of power-plays, she shouldn’t expect a second term of office.

Bottom line: any proposal that rebuilds the highway over the wishes of Providence is not a compromise. A compromise is when everyone at the table gives and takes something to get where they need to be. The boulevard itself is a compromise, because what would serve Providence best is to build nothing. The boulevard is a way to accommodate the interests of people who wish to have a large road, while also meeting the needs of neighbors who wish there was none. The governor must support the public process.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space takes stock of the DC Streetcar a little more six months after it began service. And the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia says new Census data shows biking is still on the rise in the City of Brotherly Love.

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