During World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower saw high speed roads in Germany. Inspired by such feats in transportation planning and civil engineer services, he became a champion of s similar project in the United States. In 1956, the Federal Highway Act went through and the result was the modern interstate highway system, which transformed American culture and society. It created 41,000 miles of paved roads throughout the country. Today, that number has grown to 46,876 miles but much of it has fallen into disrepair. Some estimate that as many as 33% of America’s major roadways are in a condition that is considered mediocre or poor.
The American Prospectandnbsp;is reporting on the efforts made by a coalition, Fix the 6-10, to make the state of Rhode Island take community concerns about the area highways seriously. Like many roads in the interstate highway system, the 6-10 Connector that goes through Providence, Rhode Island, has fallen into disrepair. To fix the problems, the state resorted to temporary fixes such as wooden buttresses, which themselves have deteriorated to a dangerous level, say transportation planning consultants.
Another problem posed by the connector is the impact that it has had on the local community. It has been estimated that as many as 20% of the children who reside near the connector have asthma. Because of the poor state of the road and the devastating impact it has had on people who live in the area, people came together to form the group, “Fix the 6-10.” James Kennedy, a co-founder of the coalition said, “The 6-10 really affects the quality of life for peopleandmdash;especially when it comes to pollution and traffic danger.” The group has been pushing for a new boulevard that would be easier to put in and keep up.
The coalition, Fix the 6-10, was started in 2016. It is made up of nearly two thousand local groups and includes real estate developers, Tea Party member, cyclists, neighborhood associations and environmental advocacy groups such as Clean Water Action and the Nature Conservancy. The coalition went to the state with one clear message, a new road would be better for everyone and cheaper for the state.
It took losing some federal funding for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to rethink how they were going to approach this section of roadway. RIDOT has agreed to redo the road but will only do so on the existing footprint. It seems the state has its eye on the $1 trillion that President Trump has pledged to put into infrastructure projects around the nation and could include transportation planning projects.
The road in question has been on RIDOT’s radar screen for three decades but they have yet to be able to find the money to make the repairs and changes to its structural design. Local advocates for changing the road stress that is no longer working for area residents.
Peter Park, who works at a civil engineering company, said, “Just as a starting point, a boulevard is about better connectivity. Itandrsquo;s true in Providence and true elsewhere.”
RIDOT looked at several options for the stretch of road. They could rebuild the road or they could put in the boulevard, per the request of the Fix the 6-10 coalition, which everyone seems to think would be the least expensive option. The boulevard would also spur economic development and raise tax revenue for the state.
Seth Zeren, an expert in transportation planning, said, “RIDOT has their own vision of what they want to do, and theyandrsquo;re not really interested in neighborhood impacts.”
The good news is that the work done by the Fix the 6-10 coalition began to bear fruit late last year. The state and city officials finally agreed to move forward on some improvements to the roadway. They are going to get rid of the bridges that are in the worst shape and are incorporating some of the coalition’s demands into the new plan.
One thing that is now clear is that as transportation departments around the country still face problems with their budgets, it will take more pressure from community groups to get officials to make the changes that are most beneficial to the communities where the roadways are located.