Slowing Prov’s 6/10 Big Dig

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Boulevard version of proposed Route 6/10 connector project. (RIDOT)

A state transportation agency used to routinely grabbing buckets of federal money was probably taken aback last week when the U.S. Department of Transportation rejected its bid for a $175 million FASTLANE grant to help it rebuild Providence’s 6/10 connector. So startled that RIDOT may have been, so to speak, scared straight.

One of the local transit watchdog blogs published “Burying R.I.’s 6/10 Big Dig,” relaying news of the funding snafu. The Providential Gardener, as the blog is known, speculated that a more rational plan for the job may have been given if not a green light then a second wind.

In an era where city planners, backed by the U.S. 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.

The Gardener gives the city planning department credit for pushing a proposal that, instead of rebuilding the highway with a tunnel twist, as RIDOT wants, would replace the highway with a boulevard. With the project reaching for a billion-dollar pricetag, a rethink was in order.

The Gardener also praised RIDOT for its apparently greater transparency, saying goodbye, finally, to “the dark days of the ’90s” when DOT Watch kept a sharp eye out for RIDOT no-no’s. But let’s also not forget that RIDOT spent the ’90s abandoning the ’50s mentality. It moved Amtrak rails underground, daylighted the city’s rivers, helped bring in Providence Place, and relocated Route 195 away from the city center.

Advocates for the full-monty boulevard option really ought to crank up their artistic side. The RIDOT-generated image above is unlikely to win many supporters, and I do not find any alternative images online. Not only the boulevard itself but new development along it should be re-imagined so as to generate public support rather than undermining it with the sort of sterile institutional dreck that the Route 195 folks seem to have taken such a shine to. Notice how hard they are struggling to move forward.

CommerceRI may have a bad case of ’50s mentality, and the 6/10 connector plans seemed to suggest that RIDOT, too, had contracted a relapse after all these years. Perhaps last week’s federal smackdown will bring relief.

Let’s hope that the 6/10 connector project will morph into something that lives up to RIDOT’s glory years, during which the agency earned kudos for projects that the public loved. Slowing the connector down could, as The Gardener suggests, smarten it up.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to Slowing Prov’s 6/10 Big Dig

  1. barry schiller says:

    I think a lot of Rhode Islanders would help the city resist RIDOT’s plans to spend a fortune to essentially replace the existing highway that squanders land, strangles neighborhoods, and promotes sprawl and high energy use. But the city will have to spend some political capital and take a firm leadership role. And this post is quite correct, boulevard proponents have to flesh out a real alternative vision capable of appealing to a wide audience.

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  2. I would also add the difficulty we have at keeping medians neat and tidy – well weeded and planted creatively – appears to be a constant problem. Weeds grew almost four feet high on Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston until the city took care of them. If we build such “parkways” or “pathways”, we should address budgetary issues to include proper maintenance and upkeep.

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