$450M Relocation of I-195 Revs Up in Providence, RI

Tue November 05, 2002 - Northeast Edition
Kip Fry

There may be nothing wrong with the Point Street Overpass in Providence, RI, right now, but, thanks to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), there soon will be.

The overpass, which crosses Interstate 95 just south of downtown Providence, is being demolished, which will, in turn, allow the highway beneath it to be moved. Once that is done, the new bridge will be rebuilt at a slightly different angle.

It is just the first of many steps in a massive plan to move the intersection of two interstates — 95 and 195 — a project that may not be completed until 2014, according to Lambri Zerva, RIDOT’s design project manager for the I-195 relocation project.

I-195 comes into Providence from the east, traveling through the Massachusetts communities of Fall River and New Bedford, before it joins I-495 near Wareham, MA.

But it is the other end of the road that will be receiving all the attention soon. Its intersection with I-95 in Providence needs to be moved, requiring a whole series of other projects — as many as 15 separate contracts — before the interstates can even be touched. That includes moving the Point Street Overpass, which will accommodate the new ramps leading to I-95.

The existing span is simply too narrow for the interstate below it to be moved where it needs to go. To solve that problem, the entire overpass must be shifted and lengthened.

The original overpass measures 464 ft. (140.7 m), but with its different layout, the new one will be more than 500 ft. (151.7 m) long. All parts of the overpass will be replaced, even the existing piers and abutments, according to Zerva.

“It is just one little piece of the whole thing,” said Tony Mesiti of Shire Corporation in Providence, the primary contractor for the overpass project.

Other contracts will provide jobs stretching from the bridge over the Providence River on south to the city’s hurricane barrier. The entire endeavor will cost approximately $450 million, about $10 million of which has been earmarked specifically for the Point Street Overpass. Of that cost, 85 percent will come from federal funds.

As with all big projects, the work must start with baby steps. Shielding currently is being installed underneath the Point Street Overpass to prevent debris from falling onto the interstate below.

Approximately 10 to 15 percent of the shielding had been installed by mid-April, according to RIDOT’s Jay Silva. To reduce the chances of any accidents happening, work can only be done at night. All lanes on the interstate must be open to traffic during daytime hours.

Not only will the overpass carry traffic across the interstate, it also will act as a viaduct for utilities that had to cross the interstate by other means in the past. It will soon be a conduit for electrical and telephone wires, as well as gas and water pipes. The utility corridor must travel from the west to the east side of the highway, Silva said.

Because the work has just started, everything is on schedule so far and is expected to finish by November 2003.

Traffic detours will not cause a major problem. Motor vehicles will be diverted only a few blocks away from the original overpass.

Once the whole project is completed 12 years from now, many changes will have been made. To begin with, there will be a brand new 1-mi. (1.6 km) long section of I-195 and 1.5 mi. (2.4 km) of I-95 resurfaced and realigned.

As a result, 15 new bridges, including the Point Street Overpass, will be constructed, as well as numerous ramps and a 50-ft. wide (15.2 m) pedestrian bridge at India Point Park and a bridge over the Providence River measuring 950 ft. (288.2 m).

The idea behind the whole plan is to improve access to the highway and traffic flow through the city.

When I-195 was built back in the late 1950s, the Interstate system throughout the country was in its infancy. Despite its importance as a major access to the city from the east, it was not well-planned. It winds its way through the city and separates parts of different neighborhoods.

Initial plans expected the highway to carry no more than 75,000 vehicles a day, but that number has ballooned to 180,000 in the 45 years since then. Subsequently, traffic jams going both directions are a common occurrence on I-195.

The road is too narrow in some places and too crooked in others, creating traffic flow and safety problems. Once the road is straightened, motorists will be able to move faster and more safely.

To accomplish this,

I-195 will be moved 2,000 ft. (606.7 m) to the south, placing it outside the city’s hurricane barrier. The highway will avoid downtown Providence and will have an eight-lane connection with I-95.

The direct alignment will permit the main-line design speed to be increased from 40 mph (64 kmh) to 55 mph (88 kmh). All exits will be on the right side, eliminating the current need for weaving. Distances between on-and off-ramps also will be increased. In the process, 30 buildings will be demolished.

Once the Interstates are moved, it will be possible for residential streets to be reconnected with each other after many years of being separated by the highways. This will, in turn, reconnect entire neighborhoods.

“The existing I-195 acts as a barrier between neighborhoods,” said Silva. The Providence waterfront also will be revitalized once everything is completed.