Burma Road expansion, bicycle paths and timed traffic signals were a few of the many transportation improvement ideas addressed at the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission's (AIPC) transportation workshop.
The workshop was held Thursday evening at the Aquidneck Island Christian Academy in Portsmouth.
The workshop included a main presentation by speakers from members of the AIPC and consulting firm, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. of Providence. Attendants were also invited to attend breakout sessions, which provided further information on three main topics: Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians, and Roadways and Intersections.
About 40 residents, including many town officials, such as Portsmouth Town Council President Joe Robicheau and Portsmouth Police Chief Lance Hebert, were in attendance.
"I'm interested in hearing how far they have gotten in the study," said Richard Wimpress, a member of the Portsmouth Planning Board.
Tina Dolen of AIPC opened the workshop by crediting a late Portsmouth resident. "The driving force behind this study was the late Dr. Quigley," she said.
, who died this past September, was a AIPC member, as well as a member of the Portsmouth Planning Board and the Transportation Advisory Committee for the state Department of Transportation.
Since the study launched in July 2009, the VHB consulting firm has received more than 3,000 comments from residents about how to improve island transportation. Residents are welcome to comment through an online survey, which may be found on the VHB Web site here.
John Burke, a member of AIPC, told the audience he welcomed their ideas. "We are developing a balanced, comprehensive multi-modal transportation master plan," he said. "It is a planning study...We will hear from you tonight on what should come forward."
A few of the proposals are currently moving forward, according to Burke, including the Regional Traffic Incident Management Program, studying West Main Road left turns and lane evaluations, a study on West and East Main Roads Traffic Signals Retiming, and Road Safety Audits at 16 locations throughout the island.
"You may have seen them along the road, conducting safety audits to improve safety and traffic flow," he said.
Among the proposals discussed Thursday evening were the following. All of these are only conceptual ideas proposed to improve transportation on Aquidneck Island:
- Provide additional bus service by extending island bus service on Route 60, West Main and East Main Road. Create less stops and consolidated stops.
- Provide bus information, such as schedule, in "real time" via mobile phone or multi-media device.
- Strengthen and create a new Multimodal Centers (Estimated construction cost: $6 million)—Create new transportation hubs at Pell Bridge and Melville
- Create new Park and Ride Opportunities (Estimated construction cost for two locations: $600,000)
- Implement a Rapid Bus Service by installing what is called a "Transit Signal Priority," which is a device that "talks" with the traffic signal and, ultimately, extends the green light for the bus to pass through the intersection.
- Establishing Newport Jitney Service between Gateway Center and area beaches and hotels.
- Encouraging island employers to embrace transit and create a traffic program with the Navy, NUWC and
- Reestablish ferry service between Newport and Providence during tourist season.
- Preserve Newport Secondary Rail Corridor
- Focus on redevelopment efforts at the Pell Bridge ramps, at Tank Farms 1 and 2 and at the Coddington Growth Center.
- Pell Bridge access improvements (Estimated construction cost: $34 million)—Eliminate the elevated structure and install several roundabouts.
- Burma Road (Estimated construction cost: $20-$25 million)—Make Burma Road a viable north to south corridor. There was also discussion about making Burma Road a four-way north to south corridor at an estimated construction cost of $40-$56 million.
- Realign Cory's Lane and Hedly Street in Portsmouth (Estimated construction costs: $700,000)
- Establish left turn lanes on West Main Road at Union Street and Raytheon Drive, Forest Avenue and Oliphant Lane.
- Coordinate traffic signals on West Main Road, East Main Road and America's Cup.
Bicycle and pedestrian improvements
- Connect missing links between suitable and unsuitable roads for bicycles (Estimated construction cost: $3.1 million)
- Providing island-wide guide signs for bikes
- Establish Shoreline Bikeway on Burma Road—Creating a 10-mile scenic bike-way along west side of island, connecting from Sakonnet River Bridge to Newport.
- Give East Main Road a "Road Diet"(Estimated construction costs: $56 million)—reducing East Main Road to two lanes and creating a six-mile bicycle route on east side of island. This option, according to VHB, would create a "traffic calming effect," but would require Burma Road becoming a four-lane road. "We're not suggesting Burma Road becomes West Main Road," said Bill Ashaway of VHB.
- VHB also suggested that the city of Newport create a parking strategic plan.
These proposals are considered 20-30 year plans and are only in the conceptual phase at this time.
"It (the ideas) needs to get done," said Mil Kinsella of Portsmouth. "East Main going to two lanes, it's a bad idea. I think it scrunches up traffic."
"They have so many great ideas, but there are so many variables they need to balance," said Senator-Elect Christopher Ottiano (Dist. 11, Portsmouth and Bristol) following the presentation.
"It's obvious that the people on these committees have worked hard to get these plans," said T.R. McGrath of Middletown, a Newport business owner. "It's obvious they have taken a lot of feedback from the communities."
Beth Milham of Newport asked about the costs associated with these ideas. "What exactly are the money figures for these sorts of plans," she asked.
Ashworth said there were "a lot of unknowns," but that communities could begin projects in phases as funds became available.
The project is administered by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC) working in close partnership with its member communities of Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth and with other local, state and federal agencies.
This 24-month study will result in the development of a Comprehensive Multi-Modal Transportation Master Plan for Aquidneck Island. The Master Plan will guide the investment of future funding into the Island's overall transportation system through a program of recommended short, medium, and long-term capital improvements suitable for inclusion into the state of Rhode Island Transportation Improvement Program.
This project is funded by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program.