New $60.3 Million INFRA Grant Will Help Pave the Way for Improvements to Northbound Providence Viaduct

Jul 23, 2019 Issues: Rhode Island, Transportation

PROVIDENCE, RI – In an effort to make travel through Providence safer and more efficient, Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation today announced a new $60.3 million federal “Infrastructure for Rebuilding America” grant, or INFRA grant, to replace and upgrade the Northbound Providence Viaduct on I-95.  U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, designed the INFRA Grant Program to meet Rhode Island’s need for funding to tackle large-scale infrastructure investments.

The 1,300-foot-long Northbound Providence Viaduct, which was built in 1964, runs alongside the Providence Place Mall and carries about 220,000 vehicles per day above the Northeast Corridor, the Woonasquatucket River, and local roadways.  Replacement of the southbound bridge was completed in 2017, but the northbound side remains structurally deficient and in need of improved traffic control and flow.  The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has submitted a plan to upgrade the Viaduct by adding lanes and better separating entering and exiting vehicles from other traffic to relieve congestion.  Financing for the project will come from a number of other federal and state sources, including a federally approved GARVEE (Grant Anticipated Revenue Vehicle).

Whitehouse, along with U.S. Senator Jack Reed and U.S. Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, supported the state’s application for the INFRA grant.  In a March 1, 2019 letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the four members of the delegation noted this project “will improve safety and reduce congestion.  Moreover, it will ensure that the new Viaduct will be durable and can meet traffic demands for decades into the future.  However, RIDOT will not be able to undertake this forward-thinking vision without an INFRA grant.”

“I am thrilled that the state has won more than $60 million from the INFRA program that I authored to provide vital funding for once-in-a-generation infrastructure projects in Rhode Island,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “This significant federal grant is the linchpin that will allow the state to transform the Providence Viaduct to make it safer and more convenient for the many Rhode Islanders who use it every day.  The investment will create good construction jobs as we bring one of the region’s main arteries into the twenty-first century.  I thank Senator Reed and Congressmen Langevin and Cicilline for their partnership in securing this grant.”

Senator Reed, the Ranking Member of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee helped make nearly $1 billion in INFRA funding available in FY 2019.

“Without this infusion of federal funding, RIDOT would only have been able to replace the existing structure as is.  This federal funding will enable RIDOT to make lasting improvements and upgrades that will carry us into the next century.  Beside fixing what is literally “crumbling infrastructure,” this project will resolve the capacity challenges and design limitations that make driving on the viaduct a white-knuckle experience for many drivers.  I am pleased we were able to deliver this major federal commitment,” said Senator Reed, who advocated for the grant directly with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.  “This is a smart federal investment that will pay off for Rhode Island and the entire Northeast corridor for decades to come.”

“It is critical that we make the investments necessary to modernize Rhode Island’s deteriorating infrastructure,” said Congressman Langevin.  “This federal grant will help address ongoing structural and capacity issues to ensure this key transportation artery is able to accommodate current and future traffic demands. I am thrilled to help deliver these federal funds alongside my delegation colleagues, and I applaud RIDOT for its continued dedication to improving our state’s roads and bridges.”

“A promise to get government working For The People again means a promise to make sound investments in rebuilding our state’s infrastructure,” Congressman Cicilline said.  “No Rhode Islander should be forced to live in fear of their commute because of run-down roads and bridges.  This critical grant money will provide RIDOT with necessary funds to create a safer Providence and more prosperous Rhode Island for generations to come.  I’m proud of our work to bring these important funds back to Rhode Island to make our state an even better place to call home.”

The delegation says the project will allow for safer and more efficient commerce and is urgent because engineering studies show the viaduct, which was built in the 1960s, has numerous deficiencies in the structural elements supporting existing northbound span.  In its application for the INFRA grant, RIDOT noted:

“In addition to the already significant routine maintenance and inspection costs, certain emergency repairs to the structure are required nearly every year to address critical issues with the potential to require partial or full closure of the facility, or worse, result in structural failure. To date, RIDOT has incurred significant (and unsustainable) costs in conducting emergency repairs on the existing Viaduct, measures that are necessary to ensure that the Interstate facility can safely remain open to traffic. Three such emergency repairs were made in 2009, followed by further emergency repairs to structural steel members in 2013. Over a 10-year period, the bridge maintenance repair costs and bi-monthly inspections have cost the State of Rhode Island an estimated $5.4 million, and RIDOT is spending another $2.4M this year to repair selected piers.”

First authorized in 2015 as the FASTLANE grant program, the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program provides funding for large-scale urban highway and multimodal projects that might otherwise stall without additional federal support.  The program also provides funding for smaller-scale rural projects.  Since 2016, over $3 billion in INFRA and FASTLANE Grants have been awarded, supplementing billions more in federal, state, local, and private investments.