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Rhode Island Transit Officials to Decide Where to Build New Bus Hub Near Providence

Thu February 29, 2024 - Northeast Edition
Providence Journal


Rhode Island's central bus hub has taken another small step toward moving from Kennedy Plaza to a vacant lot near Interstate 95.

The panel that controls vacant land freed by the relocation of Interstate 195 voted Feb. 26 not to market the lot in question, between Friendship and Clifford streets, until at least October so the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) can decide whether to build a new hub there.

The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission voted to take the property off the market over the objections of transit riders opposed to moving the bus hub.

Plans to move Rhode Island's central bus hub have been debated for more than 10 years, and after numerous false starts and proposed locations, RIPTA hired a private development consortium in late January to not only identify a location for a new hub, but design and build it as well.

Next Wave Rhode Island Partners, which includes Gilbane and Marsella Development Corp., in Providence, would make $16.9 million under the contract approved unanimously by the RIPTA Board of Directors.

Although RIPTA CEO Scott Avedisian formally asked the I-195 Commission to take the property off the market at the recent meeting, he told the Providence Journal afterwards that putting the hub on the former highway parcel was actually proposed to him by the commission itself in 2023.

"Quite honestly, when the I-195 Commission presented this to us, we had to really stop and think hard, because state land means that it's no acquisition cost," he explained. "So, we've got to really look at things and say, ‘OK, now that this is a possibility, does it work?'"

Project's Pros, Cons

Apart from the state already owning it, Avedisian noted that he does not know whether the former I-195 land would even make a good bus hub.

"We need to look at environmental and historical preservation — all the different aspects," he said. "Then we need to see what would the layout look like, if it's possible, and how does it fit into routes? What else can we do besides just a bus hub? Is there room for a [Transit Oriented Development]? How does that work? How [would] other commercial property fit into all of that?"

But by the time Gilbane and Marsella Development recommend a preferred location and concept for RIPTA to commit to, the state will already owe those firms at least $3.4 million, according to the Journal.

The full value of the pre-development contract RIPTA signed with Next Wave Partners is worth $16.9 million and, in addition to site selection, includes holding community events, permitting, securing financing and finishing 60 percent of the design work.

After that, Rhode Island would have to enter into a separate construction contract, at an unknown cost, to build it.

"Our hope is to also do something that's really big and bold for our riders that comes at little to no cost to RIPTA," the agency's CFO Chris Durand told the I-195 Commission. "That's one of our goals here is to see if there is a potential for an operating [revenue] source."

What Will the Project Cost?

In 2014, voters approved $35 million, which has already been borrowed, to build a new transit hub.

But the debate over whether to build a new bus hub comes as RIPTA faces a budget crisis and is set to slash routes and bus frequency due to a driver shortage.

Given that backdrop, transit advocates have questioned why the state would commit to a project of unknown cost with unknown benefits, as well as possible drawbacks to bus service itself.

Critics of the effort have referred to the I-195 site as "Siberia" because it is not in the center of downtown and lacks Kennedy Plaza's proximity to Providence City Hall, Financial District jobs, Providence Place and the train station.

Public to Have Their Say

Marc Crisafulli, chair of the I-195 Commission, told the Providence newspaper that members of the public wanting to weigh in on the project would get a chance to do so.

He recused himself from the bus-hub vote because, he said afterward, the law firm he works for is involved in the project. Commission member Vincent Masino also recused himself because he also serves on the RIPTA board of directors.

If it is built, RIPTA managers say the new bus hub will provide a clean, air-conditioned place to wait for the bus, with shops and restrooms nearby. It also is expected to have revenue-generating apartments on the upper floors and, possibly, other commercial space.




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