U.S Senator Jack Reed today announced the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) will receive $1.22 million in federal transit improvement grants. RIPTA was awarded $820,000 from the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) State of Good Repair grant program to renovate the East Side Tunnel and a $400,000 Bus Livability grant to better connect Kennedy Plaza with the Providence Train Station.
“Public transportation is critical to our economy and downtown Providence is a major transportation gateway. These federal funds will help renovate the East Side Tunnel and make capital improvements to Kennedy Plaza and the train station to ensure the system is safer, more integrated, and more reliable,” said Reed, a member of the Banking Committee, who played a key role in passing the transit component of MAP-21, the two-year transportation reauthorization bill signed into law earlier this month.
“These grants enable RIPTA to actively improve access to transit for all passengers. This funding will allow us to update and develop intermodal connections to the Providence Train Station — a key component of the state’s mobility infrastructure,” said RIPTA CEO Charles Odimgbe. “With updates to the East Side Tunnel, RIPTA will be better able to provide passengers with safe, quality transportation and improved amenities. Many thanks to Senator Reed and the Rhode Island congressional delegation for helping us improve public transportation.”
The East Side Tunnel was originally built for streetcar use in 1914. The two-lane tunnel runs east/west under College Hill in Providence, connecting Thayer Street to the east with South Main Street to the west, with a 100 foot change in elevation. The 1,800-foot long tunnel allows RIPTA vehicles to climb College Hill at a manageable 4.5% grade, avoiding the grades in excess of 10% on the streets above. Streetcar tracks were removed in the late 1940s and the tunnel has since been used for bus traffic. Currently, 6 bus routes and RIPTA’s rubber-tire trolley line use the tunnel, carrying nearly 6,000 daily passengers. There is a basic bus shelter at the west portal, but no shelter at the east portal.
The $820,000 State of Good Repair grant will help support the first major renovation to the East Side Tunnel in 20 years, including drainage work, roadway safety upgrades, and improvements to reflective lighting and signage to reduce the risk of equipment damage and more clearly restrict access to non-RIPTA vehicles and pedestrians. The funds will also be used to design and upgrade the east and west portal areas to make them safer and more convenient for passenger access.
The $400,000 Bus Livability grant will extend pedestrian, bus, and bicycle access improvements to better connect Kennedy Plaza with the Providence Train Station, which is less than a quarter mile from Kennedy Plaza. In 2011, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) announced plans to begin reconstruction of the Providence Train Station in an effort to improve bus and pedestrian connections from downtown Providence and Kennedy Plaza. This Bus Livability grant will leverage state investments by supporting the efforts underway to improve Kennedy Plaza.