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RIDOT Lights Up ’Big Blue Bug’

Mon December 28, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

Michigan, California and Wisconsin all claim Paul Bunyan and his Big Blue Ox, the University of Kentucky claims Big Blue Madness during basketball season, but little Rhode Island is the only state to claim the Big Blue Bug.

The Big Blue Bug, or, as he is officially named, Nibbles Woodaway, is the giant blue termite that sits atop Route 95 South in Providence, R.I. It is the unofficial mascot for the state, the invention of the Goldman family, the owners of New England Pest Control.

For more than 70 years, New England Pest Control has helped the locals control their insect infestations. For nearly 30 years, the company has been much better known for its distinctive landmark hovering over the highway. Nibbles has been a Rhode Island institution since 1980, giving Hasbro’s Mr. Potato Head a run for his icon money.

Some 58 ft. long, 9 ft. tall and weighing in at two tons, the termite is known throughout the nation. From movies (“Dumb and Dumber”) to cartoons, to TV and newspapers, architecture, design literature and more, the Bug has caused joy, smiles and more than a few car accidents.

RIDOT Pulls the Switch

Every year before Dec. 1, the bug is lit up with a special ceremony for Christmas. This year, for its 17th Annual Holiday Lighting, the Big Blue Bug honored the engineering Iway team at Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT).

During construction of the nearly finished $610 million highway that has improved traffic dramatically throughout the state’s capital since it was opened in phases two years ago, Nibbles got a bird’s eye view of the thousands of workers supervised by RIDOT to build the impressive highway.

With 5,200 energy-saving LED holiday lights adorning Nibbles, the R.I. Department of Transportation team that produced the Iway, assembled once again and performed the annual ceremonial lighting honors.

Having watched the entire project from a bug’s eye view — and, you can take that literally, because Nibbles was only some 6 ft. from the 195W-95S ramp during the entire construction process — the Iway project reached a significant milestone in November, with the opening of the last highway segment of the relocated interchange of I-195 and I-95 in Providence.

“We couldn’t think of a better group of people to do the honors. The Iway project makes Rhode Island better,” said New England Pest owner Steve Goldman.

Two Tons of Bug

The bug is exactly 928 times the size of an actual termite. Each wing is 40 ft. long, each leg 11 ft. long and each antenna seven feet in length.

Without question the largest termite on earth, he was the brainchild of then-owner Leonard Yale Goldman circa 1979 when the company bought its building. Very sharply, Goldman Sr. wanted to make certain that potential customers knew who they were.

According to, the bug was made of wire mesh and fiberglass over four days in October 1980 at a cost of $30,000.

Originally purple in color, the same as its microscopic counterpart, the sun soon bleached the bug blue, as it has remained. A landmark for traffic reporters for decades, each major holiday the bug’s dimensions are augmented. First comes a 300-lb. Uncle Sam hat and white Styrofoam beard for the 4th of July. On Halloween, one can see him adorned with a witch’s hat and broom. At Christmas, he gets a blinking red nose and hundreds of other lights.

His TV credits include Oprah Winfrey and several Farrelly Brothers movies. He has been mistaken for “big game” on occasion, when owners found his underside shot up with buckshot.

When he left his perch for the first time in 22 years in 2002, to be repainted, the company received 500 calls from drivers wondering where he had gone.

Pulling the Switch

At 4:45 p.m. on Nov. 23, at corporate headquarters, 161 O’Connell Street, Providence, owner and president Goldman joined RIDOT’s Chief of Construction Frank Corrao, Project Engineer Lambri Zerva, Deputy Director Chuck Alves, Resident Engineer Raymond Castigliego and Chief Public Affairs Officer Dana Alexander-Nolfe for the lighting ceremony on the roof as hundreds of cars whizzed by below.

Corrao was the RIDOT executive who actually got to physically throw the switch. President Goldman was effusive in his praise for RIDOT and explained why they were chosen this season.

“Each year, right before Thanksgiving, we select a member of the community to ceremonially ’flip the switch’ that will light up the Big Blue Bug,” said Goldman. “The principal completion of the Iway made it obvious to us that we should ask RIDOT to be our guest in turning on the lights.

“Working with the RIDOT was a pleasure (throughout the six-year process),” said Goldman. “Each of their representatives was professional and courteous. They kept us apprised of the status of the project, as it pertained to us and made every effort to assuage any concerns we may have had at the time.”

Goldman admitted that he had some concerns during the many years it took to finish the highway, and sometimes wondered if Nibbles’ nose might get bopped by a crane or two.

“Of course, we had some concern related to the proximity of the ramp to our building, but we were assured that all would be well,” he added. “And it turned out fine.

“As we are not a destination business — we service homeowners and businesses at their respective locations — there wasn’t any effect on the traffic coming to us,” said Goldman. “And, as we are already a widely known landmark, some would say, ’icon,’ the location of the ramp now gives drivers traveling 195 West to 95 South an up close and personal look at Nibbles.

“In the end, all turned out well and we could not be happier with both the project and our relationship with the great people at RIDOT,” he added.

Alexander-Nolfe agreed, saying, “The Big Blue Bug is an important and respected Ocean State icon and, while RIDOT has been building the Iway, the Big Blue Bug has been right there with us. While the Iway project won’t be completed until 2012, we expect Nibbles Woodaway to watch over the Iway for decades to come. We want to thank New England Pest Control and all Rhode Islanders for their patience and understanding while RIDOT has been busy building this project.”

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