NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s a project that won’t just bring an end to some area traffic delays; it will improve the safety, morale and temperament of northern Rhode Island commuters, at least according to one state official.
Stating that the long-anticipated reconstruction plan has taken into account the needs of both area businesses and daily travelers, officials with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation symbolically broke ground Friday on a project to overhaul the Route 146 corridor.
The $196 million project will include repaving of eight miles of roadway and construction of a flyover bridge to carry the highway over Sayles Hill Road, eliminating the dangerous intersection. RIDOT Director Peter Alviti noted that the highway’s only traffic light – surrounded by North Smithfield businesses – currently averages 85 crashes per year and is a source of “significant,” congestion and delay.
“Travelers to Providence or through the state to Massachusetts are going to be breathing a sigh of relief,” Alviti said at a press conference, which also served as a kickoff to the RIDOT construction season, on Friday, June 3. “The intersection has been a perennial dangerous roadway. We’re going to fix that.”
A new bridge will bypass the busy intersection – with five others to be repaired or replaced along the corridor. The traffic light will be eliminated, along with the U-turn by the 146/146A interchange, which Alviti said will be replaced with a, “divergent diamond interchange.” Road work will extend the weave length for the Route 99 ramp and create a separate “bus only,” lane on the right-hand side.
But the first task, Alviti said, will be paving of badly deteriorated sections of the highway, an improvement coming this summer.
For many in northern Rhode Island, the changes can’t come soon enough. In 2019, Rep. Brian Newberry called the road “deplorable,” and RIDOT delays on the project, “unconscionable.” It was 2020 when Rhode Island’s congressional delegation secured a $65 million infrastructure grant – the largest of its kind in state history – for the reconstruction.
This past winter, numerous pot holes deepened, damaging many-a-vehicle en route to Providence or Worcester.
On Friday, RIDOT officials said it was the need to balance safety with the concerns of local businesses and commuters that was responsible for the delay. Swedish contractor Skanska and joint venture partner JH Lynch & Sons, Inc. were awarded the construction bid, and have come up with a design plan that will keep the intersection operable throughout the construction process, with no interruption for area businesses, according to Alviti.
“It was a very complicated process,” he said. “It’s a massive project.”
Alviti said the plan includes a focus on traffic management, and in lieu of lane shut-downs and road closures, the contractor will create a retaining wall and bypass lanes. Once complete, the area will feature the same speed limit as the rest of the highway.
“Whenever we have a shutdown, we’ll have a bypass,” Alviti said, adding to NRI NOW that any necessary closures will be brief.
Gov. Dan McKee said that as someone who travels the road every day, he understands the plight of northern Rhode Island commuters.
“The small businesses that are going to end up benefitting… it’s going to be worth the patience,” McKee said. “We know it’s good for economic development.”
McKee and Alviti thanked all who made the project possible, especially acknowledging Congress members for their work in securing grant funding.
“Our congressional delegation is lifting way above their weight class,” Alviti said.
It was U.S. Sen Sheldon Whitehouse who pointed out that the project will be good for the safety, morale and temperament of northern Rhode Islanders.
“It’s going to make a very big difference,” Whitehouse said. “This road is obsolete. It is dangerous.”
The project is one of 60 slated for construction in the state this year totaling $1.8 billion, fueled by an infusion in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It is scheduled to be completed by spring of 2026, according to RIDOT officials.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed noted that in the 1960s, northern Rhode Island’s busy stretch of the highway was renamed after Eddie Dowling, a world famous vaudeville entertainer. Now, the road carries more than 171,000 vehicles a day.
“It wasn’t built for that,” Reed said. “It’s going to be safer. It means jobs for thousands of Rhode Islanders.”
“We’ve got a lot to do,” Reed said.