The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has cut a December ribbon that had nothing to do with holiday presents, but is certainly a great gift to commuters.
In December, RIDOT dedicated and opened the newest Iway ramp at Exit 20, which will carry traffic from I-95 South to I-195 East, and will now be located on the right-hand side of the highway, as is customary for most highway ramps and interchanges.
The current left-hand exit for old I-195 East closed at the same time, as did access to old I-195 Exits 1 (Downtown) and 2 (the popular East Side Wickenden Street).
A coterie of top officials was on hand for the dedication, including the state’s Governor and the city’s Mayor.
“This investment in our state’s infrastructure is an essential element of making Rhode Island an efficient and safe place to live and do business,” Gov. Donald L. Carcieri said. “The entire project is a significant improvement in a major highway interchange and it brings our transportation system into the 21st century. Drivers will see the benefits as they become accustomed to the change.”
Iway on the Way
Rhode Island Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Kazem Farhoumand said that the completion and opening of this significant ramp to bring eastbound traffic around the Providence waterfront and not through the city, represents completion of almost three-quarters of the $610 million project, the largest in state history.
“I’d say that more than 70 percent of the construction work on the project is finished,” said Farhoumand. “The eastbound traffic from 95 North, as well as the south is completely working well. Next year, we will establish the westbound traffic, too. We are using 50 percent of the facility completely eastbound.”
Farhoumand added that the project is within 8 percent of budget and that most of the challenging issues “arise when you are working underground.”
Nearly all state highway projects have inherently escalating costs, Farhoumand added, but that RIDOT “decided to take the risks away from the contractors and suppliers. We do allow contractor adjustments for diesel fuel prices and asphalt,” which he said have more than doubled during the course of the multi-year project.
Farhoumand said that by the end of 2009, up to 85 percent of the Iway would be completed, also on schedule.
Frank Corrao, RIDOT’s deputy chief engineer, attributes good planning and dedication as the reasons the Iway project has stayed near budget and on schedule.
“If I had to attribute it to something, good scheduling and adherence to the plan,” which Corrao said began with its designs in the early 1990s. “From conception to actual construction over that time frame, an extensive amount of planning and design went into it. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a number of complex issues involved, and we’ve been able to overcome those challenges. We’ve been able to identify them, work with the contractor to resolve them and continue to move on.”
Utilities, Tanks Create Challenges
A major challenge was the huge relocation of utilities, Corrao added, opening up the corridor to put the projected highway alignment into place. “We had to empty oil tanks used to service Narragansett Electric Company at the time,” said Corrao. “Storage tanks had to be relocated, removed and disposed of.”
In addition, he said, some sewer work along the water was “disruptive,” part of an old landfill where contaminated soils had to be removed. “When you are working along the parameters of Narragansett Bay, you had to be careful in what you removed and how you removed it,” said Corrao. “That was critical.”
Contractor cooperation was key to this strategy, he said.
“When the contractor commits the proper amounts of resources to the project and works cooperatively with the department to address those challenges, you’re able to overcome challenges and keep a project moving forward,” said Corrao.
Corrao could not fully estimate how much steel, concrete, asphalt, etc. has been used on the Iway so far.
But RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin supplied some figures on the main structural materials, as of December:
• Asphalt Pavement — 190,000 tons (172,365 t) — includes all classes, all street types, bituminous walkways and leveling courses.
• Concrete Pavement — 9,500 cu. yds. (7,263 cu m) — includes continuously reinforced concrete pavement, concrete roadway base, concrete sidewalks, driveways and medians.
• Structural Concrete — 84,284 cu. yds. (64,440 cu m) — includes all substructures, superstructures, cast-in-place walls, leveling pads, moment slabs and hurricane gates.
• Structural Reinforcing — 17,700,000 lbs. (8,028585 kg) — includes standard bars, epoxy coated bars and spiral steel for columns.
• Structural Steel — 36,300,000 lbs. (16,465,403 kg) — includes Grade 36, Grade 50, HPS Grade 50W, HPS Grade 70W and Structural Tubular Steel.
“There is a lot of steel,” laughed Corrao. “Especially in the tub girders (built up plate girders shaped like a tub, which are three-sided) support structures for bridge decks,” said Corrao. “In addition to the girders, a lot of steel was used in all the reinforcing that went into the footing and the piers and the concrete decks.”
New Traffic Patterns
RIDOT is urging motorists who travel the busy Providence highways and those who plan to visit the state, to plan ahead and allow extra time, especially during the evening commute when the I-95 South to I-195 East movement is busiest.
Those driving through or around the Providence area may wish to take I-295, Route 146 or Route 10.
“Changes of this magnitude can lead to confusion and therefore congestion as people become accustomed to new ways of getting through and into and out of Providence,” RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis said. “We encourage motorists to ’Take the RIGHT way to the Iway’ for I-195 East and keep left for I-95 South. This is the most basic change with this new exit opening — the shifting of the exit from the left side of the highway to the right.”
As new traffic patterns become established, RIDOT expects motorists will experience an improved commute on I-95 and I-195. The goals of the Iway are to improve highway capacity, increase safety and reduce highway congestion in Rhode Island’s capital city.
“(This) dedication of the newest Iway ramp is an important milestone in efforts to improve traffic flow in and out of Providence,” said Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline. “It also brings us one step closer to freeing up nearly 20-acres of waterfront property as we work to create jobs and grow our tax base.”
RIDOT has placed numerous signs along I-95 South and on city streets regarding these changes and suggested detours. Numerous maps of these changes — with suggested detours for those entering or leaving Providence depending on their point of origin — are on RIDOT’s website, www.dot.ri.gov.
Other Big Projects Open
The ribbon-cutting ceremony also served to highlight the work RIDOT has done to bring the adjacent $42 million Washington Bridge project — where traffic crosses into East Providence as soon as it gets off this new Exit 20 Iway ramp — to fruition.
The day RIDOT cut the ribbon, it also opened the fifth lane on the eastbound span of the bridge. This will provide increased highway capacity for all I-195 East traffic coming from the Iway. The fifth lane also allows room for traffic entering and exiting the highway while maintaining four lanes dedicated for highway through traffic.
“While close to the Iway, the Washington Bridge Replacement Project has always been a separate effort,” Lewis said. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the men and women who worked on the Washington Bridge project to bring it to a successful conclusion.”
Also during the same December week, RIDOT opened a new ramp from Plain Street to I-195 East. This ramp replaced the former Friendship Street on-ramp, which RIDOT closed in May.
Motorists can find this new ramp north of the R.I. Hospital area, just south of the intersection with Point Street and the Service Road No. 7. These changes come a few weeks after the closure of the Broad Street on-ramp to I-95 South as well as the opening of a temporary on-ramp from Blackstone Street to I-95 South.
These changes are all part of the ongoing $610 million Iway project. RIDOT expects to open the remaining Iway segments, including I-195 West to I-95 North and South, in 2009. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2012, when all segments of old I-195 are demolished and local streets are restored.
“This most recent opening, eastbound, was extremely successful,” summed up Deputy Chief Engineer Corrao. “It was actually one of the first times to see the actual major changes take place on the highway and reap some of the benefits of why we built the new I-195/95 interchange.”
So, far there have been 11 contracts awarded on the Iway project with four more left to be awarded before it is completed in 2012. The contracts awarded thus far have been to D’Ambra Construction Co., J.H. Lynch & Sons, Shire Corporation, R P Iannuccillo And Sons Construction Company and Cardi Corporation. CEG