The Spaghetti Monster is real my friends, and it demands tribute.
RIDOT cites the safety problem of driver weaving on “the Viaduct” in a proposal to increase the girth of I-95 between the 6/10 Connector and the Statehouse. The FASTLANE application also calls for a reconfiguration of the Dean Street ramps to the 6/10 Connector. Both proposals could be improved.
In a letter supporting the proposal, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman David Cicilline, and Mayor Jorge Elorza gave their support to the plan. The letter calls for $226 million of spending.
The weaving on the Viaduct is caused by the number of complex options that exist for drivers on this section of highway. Many routes (6/10, I-95, 146) come together in a short span, with numerous entrance and exit ramps. Instead of removing some of this complexity, RIDOT calls for adding a “collector distributor” (more lanes on the eastern side of the northbound lanes) to give drivers space to negotiate this conflict, calling the additional lanes a safety improvement. In reality, the simplest solution to the problem would be for RIDOT close some exits and entrances in this span, to remove some of the complexity.
The nearest entrances to I-95 are close by: excluding the several Viaduct entrances, there are also nearby entrances to I-95 on Point Street and Charles Street.
Closing ramps would resolve the problem, and would actually work to commuters’ advantage by discouraging local use of the highway.
RIDOT’s argument behind adding these lanes also exposes a flaw in their logic about traffic in general: RIDOT ridiculously suggests that in Rhode Island, a state that is steadily losing population, it has reliable predictions of traffic growth that would be so staggering as to create a traffic-apocalypse along this section if not remedied by 2035. Yet adding lanes to a highway is well known to do nothing to reduce traffic congestion, and a centrally-located, urban location like Downtown Providence is actually ripe for transit expansion to take away some of this car-travel demand.
The Dean Street Bridge
The application for FASTLANE grants has positive aspects to it as concern the Dean Street Bridge, but the plan could still get improvement. RIDOT calls for improved biking and walking connections over a reconstructed bridge (Dean Street currently does not even have a sidewalk that connects the whole way between Federal Hill and Smith Hill). The plan also calls for removal of the Federal Hill on-ramp (near DePasquale Square) and replacement with a smaller ramp connecting to W. Exchange Street.
I would suggest that closing this entrance makes sense, but that building a replacement does not. Closing the entrance ramp would mean that drivers would instead enter the 6/10 Connector on Broadway or Westminster. This is about a 1.5 mile distance, which is not unreasonable (maybe, even, a bit close) for the spacing between two highway ramps.
Leaving out the ramps on Dean Street would cost less money, and would help to make the Dean Street bridge a more inviting local connection for cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians. I’ve also long felt that a north-south bus line on Dean would make sense (connecting to Cahir, Stewart, and Prairie). Leaving the ramp in place serves no useful purpose for commuters or the community.
Why does closing ramps help?
I’ll give you a scenario to help you understand what I’m talking about.
Let’s imagine you’re traveling to the post office to do some errands. The post office is one mile from your house. Since many on-/off-ramp pairs in Providence are closer together than that, you may logically conclude that it makes sense to jump on the highway for your trip.
This is actually not good from the perspective of traffic management on the highway. The reason we build highways is to create express routes for long-distance journeys and interstate commerce, but your post office trip (and lots of other people’s similar errand trips) is clogging up that longer-distance travel.
It makes sense for your to travel to the post office using the highway because you can get on near your house and get off near the post office. But if the distance between the ramps was further, you might have to backtrack from where you get off. You’d ride on local roads as much as if you’d never taken the highway at all, and soon you’d learn to just use local roads for your trip.
This is the logic of removing some ramps from the highway. It would lower the amount of financial liabilities the state DOT has for upkeep, and would help to encourage use of the highway for what it’s intended for.
By making the Viaduct more complex, RIDOT may help avoid the weaving that it describes in its FASTLANE application, but it will do so in a way that will actually increase costs for the state that could be better used. RIDOT should approach the Viaduct differently, simplifying instead of adding complexity.