Highways for Habitats #25: Iway, Providence, Rhode Island

Proposed Waterfront Development and Pedestrian Bridge

Proposed Waterfront Development and Pedestrian Bridge

Transportation planning is tough.  Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes.  Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit).  Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates.  We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities.  Check out more about our inspiration here.

I-195 was built in the 1950s to connect East Providence and beyond to downtown Providence and I-95. The area surrounding the freeway began to decline before the highway was even built.  Everyone seemed to know that the area would become undesirable, and many tried to make a quick profit by buying and selling land near the proposed route. A number of buildings burned down – which many suspect was due to insurance-inspired arson in anticipation of an expected decline in property values. Overall, some 300 families, 172 homes, and 32 businesses were displaced, and two schools were demolished.  The elevated section through the city disconnected the downtown area from the waterfront and the Jewelry District.

The highway served its purpose dutifully, however, eventually surpassing its capacity of 75,000 cars daily, to its peak of 160,000.  By the 1990s, the busy thoroughfare was outdated and deteriorating.  RIDOT explored various ideas to address the highway’s condition while also solving the capacity issues and spurring economic growth and area redevelopment.

The resulting solution sought to improve the urban environment of the area while also strengthening Providence’s transportation network.  RIDOT relocated 1.6 miles of I-195 and an adjacent 0.8 miles of I-95 to the south end of the city through an industrial area, which resulted in fewer negative socio-economic impacts.  Traffic congestion dropped below pre-relocation levels, shortening commute times.

The downtown area is reconnected to its waterfront, providing water access, and 4,100 feet of new pedestrian river walks will be constructed.  The relocation has freed up 20 acres of downtown real estate, which has already seen new developments popping up. A pedestrian bridge is planned to replace the old freeway bridge, and the waterfront is being redeveloped into a public park.

The I-195 relocation has provided the potential for a highly connected area, strengthening the walkability and livability of the city.


Photo from PVD Planning on flickr.com