Supporters say tearing down, not repairing and rebuilding, this maze of highway would open up Providence to possibility
By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — James Kennedy, a vocal supporter of tearing down the decrepit Route 6-10 Connector, believes this maze of concrete and asphalt that isolates neighborhoods was inspired by an early-1960s cartoon. Ruh-roh.
“It was designed around the ‘Jetsons,’” said the Providence resident, not meaning to be funny. “They thought cars would be driving in loops around houses and people would be playing basketball underneath the overpasses. It was going to be fun. It hasn’t been fun, and it didn’t work.”
Kennedy is part of a growing movement that is calling for replacing the deteriorating Connector with a boulevard. He believes it doesn’t make sense for the state to invest an estimated half-million dollars to rebuild a tangled mess of highway that divides neighborhoods and wastes valuable real estate.
He noted that the Providence Viaduct, behind the Providence Place mall, takes up a huge amount of space and does nothing to alleviate traffic congestion. “It’s a bigger parcel than the I-195 land, and it’s being wasted,” he said.
Kennedy, who runs the blog Transport Providence, has been pushing for the elimination of the 6-10 Connector for several years. The idea is slowly gaining momentum. Earlier this month, Kennedy held a public walk and talk at the end of Marvin Street, across from Route 10. The idea behind the June 4 gathering was to imagine a different and better use of the 6-10 Connector space.
He invited City Council members whose districts border the Connector, the mayor’s office, the city’s planning department and members of the General Assembly. The only invited official who attended was Ward 13 Council member Bryan Principe. He was joined by a handful of Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design students and Alex Krogh-Grabbe, another local advocate of a boulevard concept.
Kennedy said Route 10 has the potential to be rebuilt in the way cities such as Memphis, Milwaukee, San Francisco, New York and Portland, Ore., have converted raised or sunken highways into boulevards. In Texas, the city of Houston is scheduled to remove a raised highway downtown and in Dallas-Fort Worth there's a strong movement to eliminate Interstate 345.
Proponents of a similar idea here say such a move would be better for traffic, better for development, cheaper for taxpayers and better for the environment.
“The 6-10 Connector dramatically changed the Olneyville neighborhood,” Kennedy said. “It’s a maze of highways, exits and overpasses — everywhere you walk there is concrete above your head. It’s almost a noose around the city’s neck.”
Principe said the city and state most assuredly need to have a discussion about the future of the 6-10 Connector and what the choices are besides rebuilding. “It is important that we educate people about the options,” he said. “Something needs to be done, and that can’t be just rebuilding what is here.”
One of the oldest sections of the 6-10 Connector, the Route 10 Huntington Expressway, opened in 1966 and is one of the oldest highways in the state. Kennedy noted that it’s mostly a mirror of Interstate 95. He argues that it makes neighborhoods hard to access, lowers property values, takes up developable space, spews pollution and is a racetrack for stormwater runoff.
Both Kennedy and Krogh-Grabbe are avid bicyclists. They say one of Rhode Island’s best bicycling resources, the Washington Secondary Bike Path, is underutilized because its natural connection to Providence from Cranston is Cranston Street, where only the boldest ride their bikes.
Other bicycling advocates also have expressed frustration at the behemoth that cuts Providence into pieces.
“To bike from the center of our city presently requires that you either take a prohibitively roundabout route, or clench your teeth and anus as you navigate some of Providence’s most bike-unfriendly roads, such as Elmwood Avenue and Cranston Street,” Eric Weis, trail program coordinator for the East Coast Greenway Alliance, told an ecoRI News writer last year.
Those who envision Providence without the 6-10 Connector see a continuation of Smith Hill and Federal Hill development into the valley, with park space continuing from Waterplace Park, bus lanes and a bike path stretching as far as Roger Williams Park. They say tearing down the concrete monster would unleash the city’s beauty.
Routes 6 and 10 form a border to a neighborhood that doesn’t drive much, said Kennedy, citing Census data that says about 40 percent of Olneyville residents don’t own a car. He said this border of highway can make non-car trips difficult and/or time consuming, and that the littered land beneath all those underpasses could be put to much better use.
Carl Titcomb lives on Willow Street, a block over from Marvin Street. Service Road 1 and a strip of vegetation separate his neighborhood from the Connector’s traffic, noise and pollution. He walks his dog daily around the neighborhood, and the roar of garbage trucks headed to the Central Landfill in Johnston follows him. He walked by with his companion during Kennedy’s June 4 early-evening gathering.
When asked by ecoRI News if he would like to see the Connector taken down, the 62-year-old didn’t hesitant to answer. “What do you think? Look at it,” he said. “This crap of a highway is just a route to the landfill for garbage trucks.”