NORTH SMITHFIELD – The goal of creating a 48-mile dedicated bike path that runs from Providence, RI, to Worcester, Mass. moved forward this summer, with restoration of a key railroad bridge on the Blackstone River Greenway.
The structure, which will eventually carry cyclists over Canal Street in Blackstone, brings proponents one step closer to connecting the completed section of the path in Massachusetts, to the North Smithfield – and Rhode Island – border.
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation restored the railroad bridge to serve as part of the Blackstone River Greenway. Bridge restoration was one of three bikeway projects started by the agency in 2019, with a total expected cost of around $20 million.
It is the latest step forward for an ambitious plan to create a path that runs the entire length of the National Heritage Corridor, through 14 different cities and towns, underway for some 22 years.
Construction on segments in Rhode Island began in 1998 and have continued incrementally both here and in the neighboring state, including installation of a 182-foot bridge over the Blackstone River between Woonsocket and North Smithfield in 2018. That segment connected Cold Spring Park in Woonsocket to the path’s end at Meadows Park in North Smithfield.
Additional work by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation in 2019 included a half mile segment connecting Market Square to Clinton Street.
Right now, the Blackstone River Bikeway is Rhode Island’s second-longest bike path, with 18.2 miles of dedicated routes – including 11.6 miles of continuous path from Cumberland to Woonsocket, and segments of on and off-road bikeway heading south to India Point Park in Providence and north to the Massachusetts border. The path will also ultimately connect to the East Bay Bike Path, allowing bikers to continue to Bristol and Newport in Rhode Island.
Two segments in Woonsocket still await completion, and right now, the path running into North Smithfield from Woonsocket abruptly ends at the Meadows recreation area.
“A fence prevents passage beyond where the path has dead-ended for a few years now, but progress is apparent,” noted North Smithfield Parks & Recreation Program Coordinator Kate Pasquariello in a post on social media.
But the greatest challenge in connecting paths between the two states still lies ahead.
Phase two of the connection project includes restoring a historic seven-span railroad viaduct built in 1872. That granite structure runs from Canal Street to the Blackstone River, and was once used by trains traveling to Blackstone from the east.
The railroad was once owned by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, and the MBTA discontinued commuter service on the line in 1966.
“No doubt it will be challenging to complete the section from the end of the bridge and over the viaduct, ultimately dropping down into NS’s Meadows recreation area- but at least progress is visible, and plans are there for the MA Dept of Conservation and Recreation to get the project completed,” noted Pasquariello.
According to DCR, design work for the viaduct has already been completed and construction permits secured. The agency is now reportedly working to secure the $8.8 million funding to begin construction, with the timeline uncertain.
“This project may well enter and exit NS for only a few hundred yards, but will hopefully have miles and miles of impact,” Pasquariello observed.