A Newport, R.I., highway dubbed by locals as “the road to nowhere,” is finally going somewhere due to the $85.5 million Pell Bridge Ramps Project.
A Newport, R.I., highway dubbed by locals as "the road to nowhere," is finally going somewhere due to the $85.5 million Pell Bridge Ramps Project.
"Back in the 1960s when the Newport bridge was put in, there was a road system planned but never built," said Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) spokesman Charles St. Martin. "The JT Connell Highway connected straight through, but when the old ramp system was built, it basically disconnected that. It literally ended and then you turn to the right and met up with a traffic signal."
RIDOT opened the new intersection where the JT Connell Highway meets the JT Connell Connector Road — completed in 2022 — reconnecting the two sections of the JT Connell Highway that were bisected 50 years ago.
"This will be a much better, more direct connection between downtown Newport and the city's north end," St. Martin said. "Previously, you had this old ramp system, a prelude to a road system never built. Now, in moving it, this makes traffic better and frees up land."
The bridge project has been under discussion for decades, promoted by the Aquidneck Island (commonly known as Rhode Island) Transportation Study (AITS) in 2009 and then again in 2017 with the city of Newport's economic plan to create an "Innovation District," according to the RIDOT website.
"Traffic volumes on the Aquidneck Island bridges and roadways have increased significantly over the past 40 years," according to RIDOT. "This traffic increase is attributable to many factors, including more households spread among different locations on the Island, increasing levels of automobile ownership, changing commuting patterns and increased tourism. Safety continues to be a major concern of the Island community. These concerns were elevated following several pedestrian fatalities along Island roadways caused in part by the increasing difficulty in safely crossing major streets."
The $10.9 million Phase 1, which focused on the JT Connell Highway and Coddington Highway, was finished in 2021.
"The $74 million Pell Bridge Ramps Phase 2 project is rebuilding the road network connecting to the Pell Bridge to make travel into Newport easy and safe," St. Martin said. "It includes a new efficient ramp system that will reduce congestion, especially the backup of vehicles on the bridge from the Downtown Newport exit and improve the connection between Newport's North End and the downtown area. With a smaller footprint, the new design also will spur economic development as it frees up approximately 25 acres of land. It will be finished by the end of 2024."
Phase 2 of the project continued through the winter — Newport's off season — to mitigate the impact to local businesses. Completed projects include:
- a new, safer modern roundabout;
- a new Halsey Boulevard;
- 1.5 mi. of new sidewalks and shared use paths for pedestrians and bicyclists; and
- 71 new catch basins and more than 3,000 linear ft. of new drainage pipe across the project alignment for improved stormwater drainage.
Now, RIDOT has three additional goals it hopes to complete. Those include a widened on-ramp to the Pell Bridge, demolition of the old road to nowhere and the realignment of Farewell Street.
"Each objective is important, and all are worked in concert together," St. Martin said. "We're trying to get it done before summer, and then we will move away to other projects and come back in the fall." CEG
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