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Airport Project Brings Swift Rail Line, Airlines Together at Integrated Hub

Mon October 01, 2007 - Northeast Edition
James A. Merolla

The planes may still face delays, but the trains will be on time.

A small airport in the smallest state will enter the 21st Century some time in 2009, when two major modes of commuter transportation — swift rail line and speedier airplanes — will meet at the same spot, closer to each other than at any other airport in the country.

After nearly 11 years of design, preparation and remediation, the dream of the late Rhode Island Senator John Chafee is slowly becoming an expanded, state-of-the-art, runway reality.

When completed, officials say that the Warwick Intermodal Facility will be the closest rail line to a major airport terminal in the country. The station will serve MBTA commuter trains traveling from Boston and Providence.

Memorable Groundbreaking Last Summer

In July 2006, a groundbreaking ceremony commemorated a significant milestone in the long history of the Warwick Intermodal Facility. After a decade of planning, forethought and a few raised eyebrows, state, local and national officials and dignitaries joined together at T.F. Green Airport to celebrate the start of the project. Distinguished guest speakers included Maria Cino, then acting U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

Fast forward to August 2007.

Rhode Island’s Gilbane Building Company — the construction manager for the Warwick Intermodal Facility — and PB Americas Inc., the project manager, have been readying a series of enabling projects for the much anticipated $225.5-million transportation hub, slated to open in late 2009.

The Green project to this point, is still, well, a little green. Construction in the hourly airport lot — subcontracted to Cardi Corp. for approximately $1 million — and utility work on streets adjacent to the T.F. Green facility, are among the first visible jobs, the first signs that this is actually happening.

But happening, it is.

“This project is a sign that Rhode Island is becoming a force in the New England economy. Cities across America should take notice of how the state is addressing transportation in this integrated and innovative approach,” said then U.S. Transportation Secretary Cino, when ground was broken.

Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri has often expressed his optimism about the Station.

“This is yet another sign of great progress in the state of Rhode Island,” said Carcieri. “Offering rail service that connects to our state’s major airport provides a transportation hub that will be convenient, offer easy travel options to more people, and further secures Green Airport’s position as a significant economic contributor to our state well into the future.”

3,200 New Car Spaces

Adjacent to the station, the Intermodal Facility will include a consolidated rental car facility to house all the rental car companies, bus hub for local and intercity buses, a garage consisting of 2,200 spaces for the rental car fleets and 1,000 spaces for MBTA rail commuters.

Importantly, a skywalk, connecting the Intermodal Facility to the airport terminal, will be enclosed and elevated 1,250 ft. (381 m), with walkways and moving sidewalks to help shuttle passengers to T.F. Green.

“We applaud the efforts of all the state, local and federal agencies, who have worked cooperatively over the years to make this happen. Once completed, we expect this Intermodal Facility will change the way people travel to and from the airport and beyond our borders,” said James V. Rosati, chairman of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) board of directors.

“The Intermodal Facility, in addition to capital improvement projects under way in our terminal, serves to enhance customer service,” added Mark Brewer, president and CEO of RIAC. “This will also help to solidify our position as an integral part of the Northeast regional transportation system.”

The total cost of the project is a complicated $222.5 million. Combined federal, state and private sector funds are part of the complex financing to make the project a reality. These include FHWA grants, a $42 million subordinate TIFIA loan commitment, First Lien Special Facility revenue bonds, Customer Facility Charges and state grants.

Torch Passed From Father to Son

The groundbreaking in 2006 touched John Chafee’s son, former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee. This project was as much his father’s as his. Chafee filled his father’s seat in the Senate mid-term in 1999, after his father’s untimely death, but lost in a re-election bid last November.

“For me, (that) day marks a dream come true,” said Chafee. “In 1994, as Warwick mayor, I began to have big dreams of a tremendous intermodal facility. I commissioned Airport Area Economic redevelopment plans, and master planning for a new Warwick Station Redevelopment District took place in 1998. My father secured $25 million in the 1998 transportation bill, and in the 2005 highway bill I was able to secure another $20 million for the Warwick train station. In addition, I sponsored an amendment that allows Rhode Island to reallocate unspent bridge appropriations freeing up as much as $40 million for the project. I feel privileged indeed to be here .... a part of this.”

The facility offers overall improvement to traffic flow in the surrounding area, especially the consolidated car rental facility, which will eliminate rental car shuttle buses and reduce the need for movement of off-site rental cars.

The Airport’s host city of Warwick has experienced significant development over the past 10 years, with new hotels and parking facilities located on Post Road and Jefferson Boulevard.

“The Warwick Intermodal Station offers new possibilities for development and growth for us,” said Mayor Scott Avedisian. “We welcome the tremendous economic potential for our city and city’s residents.”

RIDOT on Board Since the 1990s

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has been shepherding this project since the 1990s. In 1998, Sen. Chafee secured the initial federal funding — with an intermodal vision. In 2000, the concept developed to include a rental car facility and connection to the airport. Planning and design continued through 2005, and the project expanded to include the widened 3,200-space consolidated parking facility and skywalk with moving sidewalks.

“The Warwick Intermodal Facility will be the model for intermodalism and will be the showpiece for the fundamental link of all modes of transportation,” said James R. Capaldi, P.E., RIDOT’s retired director, when ground was broken in 2006. “It will change the transportation landscape, as well as the physical landscape, for many generations to come.”

All project financing going forward is securely in place, according to RIDOT.

T.F. Green Airport Growing

T.F. Green Airport is a medium hub commercial service airport currently serving more than 5 million passengers per year with approximately 250 daily operations. The projected growth at T.F. Green is anticipated to be 11 million passengers and 630 daily operations by 2020.

In early 2001, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, the project sponsor, began to develop an update to its Master Plan for T.F. Green to identify those improvements that would be needed to accommodate the anticipated growth in aircraft operations and passengers in the short and long term.

Potential improvements considered a range of projects, including: resurfacing Runway 16-34 and improving the safety areas at its runway ends, extending Runway 5-23 to 7,500 ft. (2,286 m) to address short term runway needs, as well as extending Runway 5-23 up to 9,500 ft. (2,896 m) to address long-term runway needs. Other projects included in the Master Plan are terminal and concourse expansion, and parking and roadway improvements.

An Economic Impact Study of Rhode Island’s airports released last year showed that the commercial and general aviation airports generate $2.1 billion in economic activity each year, with T.F. Green activity reaching nearly $2 billion. Earnings totaled $660 million, and the airports are responsible for employment of 23,318 professionals.

“T.F. Green Airport remains a critical economic engine for the region, state and the City of Warwick, and will be well into the future,” said Dr. Kathleen Hittner, chair of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation. “Our main goal is to continue to evolve, and enhance our offerings to preserve our position as an essential part of the region’s transportation system.”

There are two current projects key to RIAC’s mission. The Intermodal Facility is one and the Terminal Improvement Project is another, a series of capital improvements, which aim to improve circulation, streamline operations and offer more and improved retail and food concessions to patrons of T.F. Green.

“Our state’s aviation system, and in particular T.F. Green Airport, is an important economic asset to our state,” added Gov. Carcieri. “The airport increasingly contributes to earnings and jobs for the entire region and, importantly serves to stimulate business and tourism.”

“The City of Warwick continues its efforts to balance the economic viability of T.F. Green with neighborhood concerns,” added Mayor Scott Avedisian. “We look forward to working with Dr. Hittner and Mr. Brewer on future economic issues.”

The study further looked at the financial impact of T.F. Green on its host city of Warwick and found that it generates $167.4 million in economic activity throughout the city, $27.3 million in earnings and 1,277 jobs. CEG

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