Providence Streetcar Project Back on Track

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

A streetcar route between upper South Providence and College Hill would connect major activity centers in the city’s downtown core.

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) and local officials are moving forward with their goal of bringing a streetcar line to the city, although there isn’t much optimism that funding will come through right away for the $130 million project.

At the recent monthly meeting of RIPTA's board of directors, Mark Therrien, the authority's assistant general manager of planning, called federal funding a "huge if." The U.S. Department of Transportation has never approved a first-time grant proposal for a new streetcar project, Therrien said.

Nonetheless, RIPTA and the city are pushing ahead as co-applicants on the grant in an effort restart the project, which has been dormant since the Providence Core Connector Study was released in March 2012.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's TIGER grant would provide $20 million toward the overall cost. Therrien suggested that only a portion of the project would be designed and built if they won the grant. The deadline for the grant application is June 3.

Initial plans call for a 2.5-mile streetcar route from College Hill through downtown and into upper South Providence by Rhode Island Hospital. Only about 10 percent of the design work has been completed.

“We don’t think the project is quite ready,” Therrien said.

Since it was announced in 2006, the streetcar project has been criticized for its cost. At the time, and during subsequent years, RIPTA and the city were struggling with debt problems and layoffs.

If the grant is approved, RIPTA would serve as the custodian of the funds, Therrien said, but the city would take the lead on the politics of raising additional money for the project.

Kennedy Plaza. The board heard a condensed version of the public presentation of the proposed makeover of Kennedy Plaza presented at the Biltmore last month. The project will occur in stages, creating mixed-use space for street vendors and public events.

“For it to succeed it has to be combined with other uses,” Cliff Wood, director of the Downtown Park Conservancy, said.

Oversight of the project was funded by a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which the city received in 2011. A $2 million makeover of one of the plaza's intersections will begin this summer.

Randall Rose of RIPTA Riders told the board that the plaza redevelopment project will likely reduce the bus stops at Kennedy Plaza. RIPTA doesn’t have the money to build new stops elsewhere in the city to compensate for lost bus berths, Rhodes said

“There’s no upside to this plan (for RIPTA), just downsides," he said.