State board approves delay of Route 146 repaving

State board approves delay of Route 146 repaving

Bicycle, boating projects also affected by funding changes

NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s official: Repaving a segment of Route 146 between Route 295 and the 146A split has been delayed two more years until 2024 after a state board voted to approve changes to the state’s long-term transportation plan last week.

The changes were approved as part of an amendment to the 10-year State Transportation Improvement Program that was first proposed on July 23. Last Thursday, Aug. 29, members of the State Planning Council voted 18-1 to approve the changes, which include reducing funding and reshuffling timelines for road, bridge, bike and pedestrian projects throughout the state.

Several local leaders expressed frustration with the changes, including Rep. Brian Newberry, of North Smithfield, whose district covers most of the section of Route 146 in need of repaving. Newberry pointed out that the section serves as a major access road to the state and has dealt with repeated potholes and other problems in recent years.

“I don’t understand how the state government is going to wait another five years,” he said. “There’s not going to be a road in five years.”

Town Administrator Gary Ezovski was also critical of the changes and said he hopes to continue lobbying state officials to move up the scheduled repaving in the months ahead.

“I think it really just comes down to all of the northern Rhode Island leadership, both local and legislative positions, to keep talking about it wherever, whenever they can,” he said.

It’s not the first time local leaders have pushed for changes on that particular stretch of highway. In 2018, Newberry and several other northern Rhode Island legislators sent a letter requesting state officials move up the scheduled paving due to poor conditions in the area. The letter, according to Newberry, resulted in a small patch being applied on either side of the Sayles Hill Road intersection, but was not successful in moving up the full paving project from its originally scheduled start date of 2022.

“When they put out the amendment to push it back two more years, I just saw red,” he said. “Not only is it foolish from a policy perspective, it’s an insult to every single one of us who signed that letter.”

Though the two local leaders have been critical of the changes over the past month, their concerns have been largely overshadowed by the statewide response to bike and pedestrian projects also included in the STIP amendment. The amendment reshuffles $37 million in funds previously targeted for the state Transportation Alternatives Program, a change that drew strong criticism from legislators and bicycle advocacy groups around the state. Dozens of supporters of bike and pedestrian projects turned out for public hearings in Narragansett and Providence last month or emailed comments that were then compiled into a public response report nearly 200 pages long.

By contrast, only a small number of individuals, including Ezovski and Newberry, spoke about the proposed changes to the Route 146 paving schedule and requested state officials reconsider the changes. Ezovski said he’s seen residents talking about the issue on social media, but thinks more individuals should take the time to write to their state legislators, RIDOT and the governor’s office if they want state officials to take notice.

“It’s easy to offer these courageous keyboard comments, but they need to make contact with the people that we rely on to get these things done,” he said. “We like to think that they get thousands of emails on issues. I don’t think they do. (If) they get a dozen emails on a subject, it’s a lot.”

While several bike projects in other parts of the state were affected by the changes, changes to the Blackstone River Bikeway were limited to Pawtucket, where a section scheduled to start construction in 2019 has been delayed due to a change of funding source. Two sections scheduled to start construction in 2020 in Woonsocket have slightly modified start times but remain fully funded, according to the amendment.

The changes had a larger effect on boating projects in the Blackstone Valley. Two projects intended to open up river access, a landing large enough to dock the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council’s Explorer riverboat in Woonsocket and a canoe/kayak launch on the Ten Mile River in Pawtucket, have both been placed on hold after the amendment eliminated RIDOT funding for the projects.

In a statement released with the changes in July, the RIDOT noted the amended plan reflects a spending increase over 10 years of $358.7 million, but said the state’s Pavement Capital Program had been reduced by $61 million based on available funding sources.

“The amendment reflects changes necessary for RIDOT to achieve its core mission of reaching a 90 percent bridge sufficiency rating by 2025 to meet state and federal mandates,” the statement said.

Comments

The local leadership and Governor are a disgrace. They continual waste money but can’t pave a heavily travel road that looks like it has been through WWII and hasn’t been paved since then.