RIDOT sends letter of support for cross-island bike path
The Bike Path Design Committee read a letter at its latest meeting from state Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis that said his office supported the idea of a cross-island bike path that would connect Jamestown Shores with the village.
The committee met on Nov. 8 and Town Engineer Mike Gray and Luanne Nevitt from RIDOT were in attendance. With the state’s support to fund the project, the next step for the town is to draft a request for qualifications, advertise it, and contract an engineer.
“RIDOT supports the funding of this project in the Transportation Improvement Program at the appropriate time, subject to successful project development and permitting by the town and the availability of funding,” Lewis wrote in the letter addressed to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser. The letter was dated Oct. 24. “We look forward to working with the town in the future on this exciting project.”
Committee Chairman Bob Sutton said that the letter was exactly what he was looking for. “It’s what we asked them to say to support us,” said Sutton.
On Sept. 14, Jamestown brass including Keiser, Sutton, Town Planner Lisa Bryer, Sen. Teresa Paiva Weed and Rep. Deb Ruggiero pitched the idea of a bike path to Lewis and his staff at his office in Providence. Lewis said that the meeting was “very productive.”
Two weeks later, Keiser wrote a letter to Lewis following up on the meeting. Then, during the Town Council’s Oct. 17 meeting, the council chose the bike path as its top priority for any Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) funding. The last project to get top billing by the council was the sidewalk and curbing phase of the Downtown Improvement Project that was just completed on Narragansett Avenue. The bike path finished first out of four projects – the other three proposed projects added to the TIP by the town are resurfacing the stretch of Narragansett Avenue from Southwest Avenue to West Ferry, replacing the sidewalks and curbing along Walcott Avenue from Hamilton Avenue to Fort Wetherill, and repairing the East Ferry seawall.
“The key is to be on the TIP,” said Sutton. “If we aren’t on the TIP, then we get nothing. No project can be funded without first being on the TIP.”
The TIP is a list of transportation projects that the state of Rhode Island intends to implement using federal Department of Transportation funds. If a municipality wants financial aid for a transportation project, it must first prioritize its projects and submit them onto the TIP – otherwise, there will be no money available, said Sutton.
The first major step in the process to build a bike path was at June’s Financial Town Meeting, when residents voted to allocate $21,000 for the design phase of the project. Sutton made it clear at the time that if the state didn’t lend a financial hand, then the $21,000 wouldn’t be spent.
“We will not spend a cent of the money unless we can guarantee that we have money for construction,” Sutton said before the FTM. “We will not make an agreement with a contractor for the design until we have a definite agreement with the Department of Transportation to proceed with the construction funding.”
According to Sutton, the recent letter from Lewis shows the support from the state that was needed so that the town can move forward with the project.
“That’s a great letter,” Sutton said. “That’s what we really need to move forward. At the Financial Town Meeting, the people said we will support [the bike path] if the [state] DOT supports the funding – this letter says DOT supports the funding.”
Gray said that he was in the process of drafting an RFQ, but had to add comments before he could get the approval from Nevitt.
“I have to do my comments, which there weren’t many, then I give it back to [Nevitt],” said Gray.
Sutton asked how long it would take to get the RFQ revised, approved and ready to be advertised. “There aren’t any real problems with the RFQ except for the comments [Nevitt] made,” he said. “It’s not like we’re asking how can we resolve this unresolvable issue.”
Gray told Sutton that there weren’t any “backbreaking comments,” and Nevitt said she had no “real problems” with the RFQ except the few minor changes.
“So a few days?” he asked. Nevitt responded, “Yes.”
“So theoretically, we are within a week of that being done,” said Sutton. “It all depends on when [Gray] starts?”
But Gray said it might take a little longer. “Have you seen my desk?” he said.
Sutton and Gray agreed that the RFQ would be completed and ready to be advertised by the “first part of December.”
“So after Christmas there is every reason to believe we can start on this,” Sutton said.
Although transportation funding is expected to be cut, Sutton is still optimistic because the project will cost roughly $1 million – which isn’t expensive relative to other transportation projects in the state – and because the bike path will be solely on town-owned land.
“There will be no acquisition of land, which speeds up the process and makes it much easier,” Sutton said.
According to Gray, the Federal Highway Administration told RIDOT that there will be 24 percent less funding for the upcoming funding cycle, which begins in 2013. State TIP awards have averaged $210 million per year – in 2013 Rhode Island is only projected to receive an allocation of $160 million.