Proposed RIDOT Welcome Center Given the Ax

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

HOPKINTON, R.I. — The project never made much sense to the many opponents of the travel plaza/welcome center planned off Interstate 95. Their message recently got through to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, as the state agency has asked the Federal Highway Administration to rescind its application for a $9 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant for the proposed transit center.

The decision was made in consideration of concerns expressed by local residents and sensitive environmental findings at the proposed site, according to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT). The proposed location was along I-95, west of Main Street (Route 3).

Behind the scenes, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA) quietly urged RIDOT to alter or abandon its plans to build the welcome center on the Rhode Island/Connecticut line. The association's effort began in July 2015, with a comment letter included in RIDOT’s federal application for project funding. Unlike the town of Hopkinton’s letter of support, the WPWA submitted a letter of environmental concern.

“Although rehabilitating the aging welcome center in Richmond does not achieve all of the original goals of the project, it does meet many of them and represents a much lower impact on the environment,” WPWA executive director Christopher Fox said. “Protecting the integrity of our environment from large development threats requires just the sort of emotional outcry we saw from the public and I thank each and every one who cared enough to make their concerned voices heard.”

RIDOT’s decision was made for several reasons, according to director Peter Alviti.

“First, we wanted to do what was best for Hopkinton. We understand that the residents treasure the rural nature of their town and they want to keep it that way,” he said. “Secondly, in light of the findings that came from the environmental site assessments and archaeological review there were other concerns. Finally ... it was clear that the environmental and social challenges of this project would make it difficult to go through the environmental assessment process in a timely manner.”

During the site analysis, he said, wetlands were delineated along several areas within the designated parcel. The property also is within a groundwater reservoir district, and the proposed development would have been above an aquifer.

“All of this gave us pause,” Alviti said, “but most importantly our archaeological surveys showed that there were historical artifacts of great significance to the Narragansett Indians including three cemeteries.”

Since RIDOT had already budgeted $3 million for the project, a portion of that money will be used to enhance the existing welcome center on I-95, according to state officials.

Some of the $3 million will also be used on the installation of electrical pods at the rest stop that will allow truckers to plug in at night for both warmth and light.