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INVESTIGATION: DOT Spends $21M on Bike Path

Thursday, August 02, 2012

 

The state DOT’s plan for widening the section of the East Bay Bike Path over the Washington Bridge is meant to be a beautiful enhancement to a historic structure, but the seemingly steep price tag for the project—$21 million for about 1,600 linear feet of bridge—has some balking.

“We feel that’s a ridiculous way to spend money … when you can spend it in other ways, when our roads are in such a state of disrepair,” said Pete Tanner, an official with the Rhody Rovers Motorcycle Club, one of the organizations that represent the off-road vehicle community in Rhode Island.

The path currently is four feet wide: barely enough room for two people to pass each other and an especially tight squeeze for bicyclists who have to use bump-outs to let each other through.

The new path will actually be two paths: a seven-foot wide one for bicycles and an 11-foot wide walkway for pedestrians, with a five-foot wide raised median separating the two.

But, for $21 million, bike path users are getting much more than a wider space. The Department of Transportation plans include ten “ornamental park benches,” an equal number of granite benches, four landscaped planters, and 32 “decorative lights.” The DOT also has set aside about $500,000 out of the total project cost to remodel the 861-square foot operator’s house that hails from the days when it was a drawbridge. In the center, will be a 40-foot wide “scenic outlook” with informational kiosks on the bridge’s 80-year history. 

“All of that aesthetic value and all of that historic significance comes at a price,” said Frank Corrao, DOT Deputy Chief Engineer.

‘Icing on the cake’

“Decorative lights like the ones over the bridge connecting Barrington to Warren and the idea of park benches is great, but the cost seems extremely excessive given the distance,” said Lisa Blais, of the Ocean State Tea Party in Action. “Clearly, it seems to be an exploitation of taxpayers.”

As a point of comparison, the DOT is currently working on resurfacing Interstate 95 in the southern reaches of the state. For 6.6 miles of work, the DOT is spending $7.5 million, a third the cost of the bike path widening.

Blais says the state should focus its scarce resources on fixing what’s broken—like potholes, aging roads, and decrepit bridges first, before doing projects like the one over Washington Bridge. “We’ve got massive infrastructure problems across the state. Let’s take care of those first,” Blais said. “The icing on the cake is always tasty but let’s bake the cake first.”

Bicycle community backs project

But ardent bicycle advocates like state Rep. Art Handy say there needs to be more of a balance between spending on roads and spending on bicycles. “I think in the end we need to recognize roads aren’t just for cars,” said Handy, who declined comment on the specific cost of the Washington Bridge project.

An official with the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen said the group has “long supported” the development of a network of multi-use paths throughout Rhode Island and looks forward to using the revamped path over the Washington Bridge, which will be named the George Redman Linear Park. 

“While 21.1 million seems a big price tag for a piece of infrastructure, it will easily last another 50 years and provide immeasurable enjoyment to the residents of and visitors to Rhode Island, eventually allowing one to ride a bicycle from Bristol to Woonsocket, Worcester and Calais, Maine, and southward to Key West mostly on off-road paths,” said Matt Moritz, the advocacy chair for the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen.

 … so does heritage commission

The Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission also backs the project, according to its executive director, Edward Sanderson, who said the Washington Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sanderson said the bridge, which originally opened in 1930, is historically significant because it was built as part of the expansion of the highway system in the 1920s and reflects the influence of the City Beautiful movement, which was based on a theory of civics that drew a subtle connection between beauty in grandiose public structures and virtuous behavior among citizens.

“It was reflecting city and state pride,” Sanderson said. “It was intended to be a monumental presence.”

As part of its work on the bridge, the DOT signed a memorandum of understanding with the commission, promising to preserve the historically and architecturally significant features of the bridge, according to officials at both agencies.

DOT defends cost

The bike path widening was originally intended to be part of the expansion and rebuilding of the Washington Bridge project, according to Corrao. But when DOT engineers first drew up plans for the project it came out to a total of about $110 million. So they want back to the drawing board and used a process called “value engineering” to see if they could achieve the same standards of safety, quality, and functionality for a cheaper price, Corrao said. As part of that process, they also removed the bike path widening and made that a separate project. 

As a result, the cost for the rebuilding of the bridge itself dropped roughly in half—something that Corrao said critics of the $21 million bike path widening should remember. “When people say that’s a lot of money, [it] would have been $110 million,” Corrao said.  (Including both the work on the highway and the bike path, the total cost is just over $70 million, a savings of well over $30 million from the original cost, according to Corrao.)

As a stand-alone project, the bike path widening actually was originally slated to cost $33 million. But DOT engineers slimmed down that project too, bringing the cost down to its current estimate of $21 million, which includes $2 million for work on the section of the bridge passing over Warren Avenue in East Providence, according to Corrao. (The project is being funded through federal Grant Anticipated Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE) funds.)

‘There will always be critics for everything’

Supporters of the bike path widening point out that it will provide an invaluable connection between the East Bay Bike Path, the India Point Park, several bike paths in the City of Providence, and the Blackstone River Valley Bikeway. Corrao said the DOT also had to honor the commitment it had made to preserve the architectural features of the bridge.

Of course, critics would maintain that all those goals could be achieved without spending a dime and simply keeping the narrow bike path as it exists today. But Corrao dismisses that as do-nothing naysaying. “There will always be critics for almost anything and everything any state agency will do—and the federal government,” Corrao said. “If people want to focus on that price tag, they can do that. We would like people to focus on the end product.”

The project, which began last month, is scheduled to take two years—half the time it took to rebuild Interstate 195 over the same bridge (the project began in 2004 and was completed around 2008).

During the two years the bike path over Washington Bridge is closed, bicyclists are being redirected over the Henderson Bridge, which has little to light traffic and is already wide enough to accommodate an expanded bike path.

But the Henderson Bridge could not be used as a long-term, cost-saving alternative to the Washington Bridge, Corrao said, because of the work the state would have to do to the roads along the East Providence side to make them ADA-compliant.
 

 

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Comments:

guy smily

Let me start by stating the obvious. The 195 bridge has been under multiple construction projects for 2 decades. Nobody thought then to put a wider bike or pedestrian path? We have no money in RI, bridges are crumbling, businesses are leaving and unemployment is high and we are going to wasted $21 million on a bike path that is maybe 1/4 mile long? Are you kidding me!

Rep. Art Handy says there needs to be more of a balance between spending on roads and spending on bicycles. “I think in the end we need to recognize roads aren’t just for cars,” said Handy, who declined comment on the specific cost of the Washington Bridge project. Representative Handy wouldn't speak out against this? He declined to comment on the specific cost. God forbid he examine all the facts and do his due diligence as a legislator in RI! Why, because he is clearly part of the problem. Another one who doesn't get it! Hey Art our cities and towns are on the verge of bankruptcy and you can’t speak out against a $21 million dollar project for bikes? You clearly need to be replaced in November. If you made up stories here in RI they wouldn't be any better. We should be lucky because it could have cost $110 million? Now that's the type of logic that put RI on the map! ART HANDY NEEDS TO BE VOTED OUT IN NOVEMBER. That is what I take away from this article.

Stuart Mundy

What is going on with our bikepaths? Eastbay has a detour that has virtually cut-off Providence from the East Bay. The detour is dangerous for byciclist.
Oneyville ends with a detour after less than a mile, which causes you to turn around, and weave through traffic, and ride up Manton ave ti re-enter the path. To some of us these bike paths have become part of our daily lives, and essential to keep us excercised and out of bed. As a long-time, political activist, and life-long Rhode Island resident, ask that this be resolved.

dis gusted

Guy Smiley,
You are 100 % correct. 21 million is a disgrace at a time when the cities and towns are going broke.
And not only should Rep Handy be voted out, but RI voters should be voting out all of them in NOvember especially the incumbents who have been in there too long.
The leadership who are lawyers making 6 figures and who did not give up the 3.2% raise need to be voted out. That includes Gordon Fox, Nick Mattiello, Paiva Weed, Brian Newberry..and others as well...
These people are not Democrats but in name only...
Voters in RI need to wake up...For once in your life vote out the Democrats...They are not helping you but are helping themselves...
Vote in new faces with fresh ideas in November. The idea of 21 million on reconstructing a bike path when the RI roads are the worst in the country should tell you that the lawmakers are wasting your hard earned tax paying dollars...
21 million is what you are paying for this project....I am sure that cost cost could have been made less...so who is profiting now?

Chris MacWilliams

I certainly hope that the crew that is going to do this $21 million project is not the same crew that repaired the cracks on the black top that goes from the Barrington to Bristol end of the path.

WHAT A MESS! Bumpy, thick, gooey, sticky tar everywhere.

Charles Beckers

Stephen Beale:

You say that the $21 million comes from Federal GARVEE funding. Usually there is a requirement for state matching funds in a Federal grant program.

Of the $21 million, how much is actually Federal money and how much will the Rhode Island taxpayer be directly responsible for?

Also, what fraction of the Federal funds will come from Rhode Island taxpayers indirectly through our Federal taxes?

Charles Beckers

Stephen Beale:

Oh yeah, and can those GARVEE funds actually be used for any other project, or are they specific to this project?

Roland Lavallee

Has anyone missed the obvious, the tagging on public property, crippling the views for the masses?

Is there any reason we cannot install cameras and/or put a police detail to arrest, incarcerate, fine individuals who are defacing public property?

I have other ideas but they are drastic but I don't care. It seems no one is getting pissed off enough to do something about it.

$21M for a bike path when cars have to dodge sink holes, divots and rippled streets?

Rufus Mikatis

Lets face it; does RI DOT EVER do anything that is cost-effective

Brian Bishop

I can rest easy tonite. They were going to spend $33 million and they cut to the bone.

They have a 6 lane bridge doing absolutely nothing that ties to the waterfront in East Providence and they are whining about whether the roads in East Providence would be ADA compliant? What exactly is ADA compliant about Gano St. that isn't about Valley St.? They spray painted a couple bicycle stencils on the blacktop. Well the way they spend money that probably cost a million dollars.

And take a look at gogglemaps. What about the waterfront drive they propose to build in East Providence. Do you suppose anyone is going to say we don't need to build that because we just wasted . . . eer invested $21 million in the Washington Bridge and its all ADA compliant.

This is a friggin travesty. And as per usual, Arthur Handy wants to give the tax money to constituencies that didn't pay it. So I guess Obama misspoke . . . what he meant to say was "If you've got a bicycle, you didn't build that" . The rest is all bullshit. If you drive a car or your business uses trucks, you built the roads, you paid for all that. Bicycles pay nothing. They are leeches and think themselves so high and mighty about it. But folks vote for Handy every year. I ride bike regularly, but not to be superior to other folks or so the government will rain money on me, but because I feel like it. And I crossed the Henderson bridge on a bike for 35 years now, but that's not good enough for Arthur Handy and the Bike Lobby.

Part of the reason the Motorcyle groups pay attention to this is they pay gas tax and thanks to John Chafee (not a misprint, I'm talking 20 years of stealing their money since he was in the Senate) the state spends zip for trails for motorcycles, but they spend $21 million dollars for 1600 ft of bike path? That's $13,000/foot. Is anyone talking about putting GPS tags on bicycles and charging them for the path!!! If so I'm all for it. Otherwise cancel the contract.

Brian Bishop

Sorry crossed the Henderson Bridge on a bike for 45 years, I was lying about my age.

Gary Arnold

They are just following the governors lead in taking in the view while the state crumbles behind him (them). Its like they don't see any problems in the state just what they are working on. The DOT is a government agency that reports to who?

peter hewett

This is a glaring example of why this state is in a serious hurt locker with its finances. I'll let Mr. Corrao focus his attention on the end product. I am more concerned with the means. Personally, I believe senior officials within the DOT with his attitude and priorities ought to be removed. It is a simple matter of establishing priorities - of deciding between "needs" and "wants".
Mr. Lewis, Executive Director of the DOT, has stated in the recent past that his department is 200 million short of what he needs to properly operate and maintian the 800 bridges and 3300 miles of roadway we have in this state.
$21 million for widening and beautifying part of the bike path. Give me a break. Let the bikers go south to Key West. The pathway to Worcester and Calais, Maine will have to wait until better days for this end product. God help us and he better becuase Mr. Corrao and his supporters aren't.

Nancy Thomas

The DOT Communications person just left - I sure wouldn't want to defend this project.....have no idea if this is an unrelated coincidence, though.

anthony sionni

fix the roads and bridges first!!!

tom brady

Hey people, look on the bright side, all the elderly whose pensions were cut will now have a nice place to sit as they peddle their bike to the local store and get their bologna and milk. Sorry can't afford gas this week. Just keep building monuments and we will be ready when Red China takes over.

george pratt

The bike path works already. Sorry you have to slow down and get in single file for a 1/4 mile. Let the wheelmen have a bake sale if they want a nicer bike path. Lewis and Corrao should be fired and if the voters in Hardy's district won't vote him out would Gordon Fox stop this waste of money. Be it federal or otherwise.

Russ C

Glad to see this done. The existing path was an accident waiting to happen. Can't wait to take the kids across.

Stephanie Powell

The graffiti defeats the purpose. Fix that first.

Samuel Bell

Let’s be clear about something. The bicycle community does not back this project. As a bicycle commuter who sold my car a few months ago, I am offended by this project. Setting cost concerns aside, this project makes things worse, not better, for bicyclists because closing the bridge for two years more than offsets making it slightly wider in the future.

The path along the bridge probably should be widened to allow traffic in both directions. This means laying about a yard of new pavement and moving the barriers. It should not cost more than $1 million or take more than a month, and there would be no need to close the bridge while this takes place.

There is no need for a separate walkway for pedestrians. As every existing bike path in Rhode Island shows, pedestrians and bicyclists can actually share paths quite easily if they are wide enough. There is definitely no need for benches. No need for a median. No need for a scenic outlook. No need for landscaped planters. No need for decorative lights. No need for informational kiosks. As anyone who has ever been on that bridge knows, the highway is extremely loud. This point cannot be overstressed. No one in their right mind would ever want to hang out there, no matter how many granite benches and informational kiosks you put up. I honestly cannot think of a dumber place to put a park in the entire state of Rhode Island short of an active landfill.

This project represents a broader anti-bicycle attitude in this state. Bicycle infrastructure in Rhode Island is mostly designed for either traffic control or aesthetics, not as a legitimate means of transportation. There are a number of bike routes within the state, but without fail they do not connect up with each other, and they do not actually service places where people go to work or school. With $21 million well-spent, though, we could fix bicycle infrastructure in Providence.

Here’s what we’d do: We would extend the East Bay bike path to downtown, creating a paved path through India Point Park and the I-95 land. We would then connect the East Bay bike path to Blackstone Boulevard. Most importantly, though, we would build bike lanes in South Providence, where most car-free residents actually live. Ideally, we would build a dedicated bike path connecting the Washington Bike Path, which terminates at the Cranston police station, to downtown Providence, serving Classical High School along the way. We would also build a bike route servicing the airport. Most of these routes consist of segments that have been largely constructed already. All you would have to do is connect up those isolated segments. It would be difficult to spend more than $10 million on all of these projects, since bike paths are very cheap and bike lanes are even cheaper, but I would not be surprised if the DOT found a way. If the DOT were vaguely competent, the extra money could be used for more ambitious projects, like waterfront bike paths servicing tourist areas like Newport, Jamestown, Little Compton, and Narragansett. But the DOT is not competent, as the Washington Bridge boondoggle clearly demonstrates.

As the State Coordinator of the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, I assure you I do not say this very often, but the Ocean State Tea Party does not go far enough. This is not a good idea with a preposterous price tag; it is a bad idea with a preposterous price tag.

Samuel Bell

I should also add that the decision not to even put up a nominal bike detour route is a pretty big slap in the face to the bicycle community.

Nancy Thomas

To Samuel Bell - you should take this summary and submit it to the RI Foundation which is running a group to discuss creative solutions to RI problems - this is a well thought out response to what seems to be a boondoggle in the planning. Never even thought about the noise factor - interesting....picnic on a bridge of 8 lanes of traffic? Um, maybe not....wink

jon paycheck

when you see things like this...that happen almost every week in this state and worse than that, how leadership defends these things.....along with the murders and violence in providence, the high unemployment, the poor education system...

this state is really going down.....

i don't see anything stopping it....

there is so little political will to clean things up...

unless you have ties that you cant break, you would be crazy to stay here.....

Brian Bishop

I forgot what goddamn site I'm on and friggin go local just ate my comment. Why can't their site work like every other site in the world. I only comment on stories I really care about because this site is such a pain in the ass. Maybe that is to the good but if they care about site traffic and participation they would do something about this.

Obviously, I care about this so I'll try again.

It is great to see a bikeridge besides myself say that the 'bike lobby' doesn't speak for them. But it would take a virtual groundswell of hundreds of thousands of such people to make a dent in the system where DOT can just point you to the 'bike lobby' and say they have long supported the bike path on the washington bridge.

I think Stephen didn't press DOT or the 'bike lobby' hard enough about what they couldn't use the Henderson bridge. About why failing bridges that they are always bellyaching about when asking for more bond money aren't more important than a brick plated bike path.

Sam points out that the money could have been much more practically spent to obtain better results for bikers although he doesn't explain why gas tax money should be diverted to bike paths in the first place (beyond any tiny tangential improvements in congestion because a few people chose to ride bikes instead of driving cars).

The way you test this public policy is you see if bikers (and walkers) would pay a toll that contributes significantly to the cost of the bike path. If they won't pay don't build it. That simple. There isn't the least bit of compunction tolling the bejesus out of folks going to aquidneck island because the state can't afford to maintain those bridges, but such efforts are really revealed as constituency contests and not public policy when you realize that vastly more per bicycle will be spent on the washington bridge and they won't pay a cent.

One thing you miss when handy is whining about spending money for bikes. What exactly is the utilization. Something like 100,000 cars cross the washington bridge a busy day. If 100,000 bike were going to cross the bridge a day then they might have a point. . .

I understand that bike paths seem nice to bicyclists, but we all rode from Key West to Calais with no bike paths and I have yet to see a single bicyclist willing to pay a cent for this effort. Maybe you are different Sam,and I'm glad you distance yourselves from your masters who claim to speak on you behalf, but you don't mention bikes paying their way.

jon paycheck

when you see a project like this ... think north kingstown and tf greene rail stations....cost approx $250 million plus millions per year in maintenance and maybe 50-100 people use it 5 times a week.

Samuel Bell

Hi Brian,

Let me first say that, as a progressive, I am obviously against the idea of bridge tolls. Bridge tolls are an extreme example of a stupid tax. They are absurdly regressive, meaning they hit those who can least afford to pay the hardest. They also cost quite a bit to collect—sometimes more than the revenue raised. And most importantly, they cause considerable damage to the economy by slowing down traffic and increasing transport costs.

For Rhode Island, new revenue should be raised through higher income taxes on the wealthy. Income taxes on the wealthy do not damage the economy. In fact, because the federal government subsidizes income taxes on the wealthy, raising taxes on the top 1% and giving the money right back would actually stimulate the economy by bringing more money into Rhode Island. Of course, it makes much more sense to use that money to rebuild our infrastructure, reverse painful cuts, rehire laid off public sector workers, or cut sales taxes, property taxes, restaurant taxes, bridge tolls, license fees, or car taxes.

Bicycle infrastructure is typically very cheap. I agree that for $21 million, the additional usage probably wouldn’t justify the cost. However, for a more reasonable cost of $100,000 or even the extreme option of a new bridge at $500,000,* it is great value for money even before you factor in the congestion reductions, health care cost savings from more exercise, commute time reductions, road wear savings, and environmental benefits that come from increased bike usage.

*Based off standard cost estimates from the California Department of Parks and Recreation. See: http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/1324/files/how_much_will_that_trail_cost_fri2007.pdf

Bill Johnston

Sam,

If you raise taxes on the rich, they will leave for places that control their spending and apply taxes more reasonably. The rich have been leaving RI for years and the pace is probably accelerating.

When the rich leave, you lose not only their present tax payments but also their charitable contributions, their businesses, and their creative ideas (they tend to be smart and productive).

If you want to save RI, take drastic steps to reduce spending and taxes so that businesses once again can start here and be profitable. Alternatively, reduce spending and apply a VAT-consumption tax, and thereby make everyone pay some taxes. Many people pay no income taxes now.

More freeloading off the rich is an insane idea. RI has been trying to do it, and look where we are. Ditto Providence -- what rich person would move to Providence with its sky-high real estate taxes and $70-per thousand car taxes? Most rich people are rich because they understand how money works and how to make it grow. It's very hard to make money grow in RI and in Providence. Why are the tax-EXEMPTS the only companies that are growing here?

Samuel Bell

“If you raise taxes on the rich, they will leave for places that control their spending and apply taxes more reasonably.”

This is a common misconception. Not surprisingly, academics have researched whether the rich tend to leave states with higher income taxes. The answer is a resounding no. See the following report if you are curious about the details: http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/published_study/Revenue_PERI_March5.pdf

“The rich have been leaving RI for years and the pace is probably accelerating.” If this were true, it would not support your argument. If the rich were leaving Rhode Island in response to the big cuts in their tax rates, then presumably raising their taxes would bring them back.

Property taxes and sales taxes, which disproportionately affect the poor, do damage the economy, and the effect has been amply documented. Even the Tax Foundation, a conservative think tank, admits that property taxes have the largest effect on business location decisions.

“More freeloading off the rich is an insane idea. RI has been trying to do it, and look where we are.” Actually, when you add up all the sales, property, and income taxes, Rhode Island taxes the bottom 20% at a rate of 11.9% and the top 1% at less than half that rate—5.6%! Our strategy of cutting income taxes on the rich and paying for it with layoffs and hikes in property, sales, and car taxes is the main reason why we are doing much worse than the rest of the country. In 2005, our unemployment rate was precisely the national average. But in 2006, when the Carcieri tax cuts for the rich took effect, our unemployment rate jumped to the tenth highest in the nation and has since climbed to the second highest.

marvin rubin

someone from the ri dept of transpotation has to be getting a big job from the contractor doing this overpaid project. it will parallel edc's saul asking schilling for a job. 21 million for a 1/4 mile bike path when 2 bridges around the corner on warren ave. are being supported by wood blocks. it is a disgrace.

Art West

$21 million for 1600' of bike path is insane.

I'm sure the essential widening work could be done for 1/20 of the cost of this boondoggle.

Just do the essentials and leave the extravagance for some time in the future when/if the state is further from financial ruin.




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