The feds will help pay to resolve Apponaug traffic problems and, as planners believe, have set the stage for a major revitalization of the village.
Last week, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT)learned it will receive a $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant for construction of the Apponaug Circulator that is slated to start next spring and take about two years to complete.
The state was committed to move ahead with the project regardless of the grant, but now that it will get the money, the federal funds will enable the state to proceed with other projects farther down its list of priorities.
“I don’t believe I’m going to see this happen,” said Patricia Reynolds.
Reynolds is a business development planner, who has worked for the City Planning Department for the past 16 years. She has worked closely on the circulator plan and other plans to revitalize the village.
Reynolds sees the circulator as much more than a series of five roundabouts to replace conventional intersections and a bypass to the village center. She said the $33.5 million project has the potential “for making positive change” and “creating a real heart for the city.”
The state looked at it that way too when applying for the grant.
“One of our primary arguments was that this area was prime for economic development because of its location in the region and close proximity to T.F. Green Airport and the InterLink. Economic activity has declined here over the last several decades, and this project can improve Apponaug’s commercial viability and attractiveness for redevelopment,” DOT spokeswoman Rose Amoros said in an e-mail.
“The project also has a strong environmental impact, improving air quality, redirecting storm water runoff and saving energy. The bay is one of the area’s most valuable natural resources, and updating our transportation infrastructure will go a long way in improving water quality and wildlife habitat,” she said.
The city has an even broader picture of the village.
Reynolds’ work includes village zoning that allows for mixed uses so that a village store might also house offices and residential spaces, as well as revisions in setback and parking requirements to permit denser development.
More recently, Reynolds and the Planning Department have worked with developer Raymond D’Abate on his plan to build a boutique Wyndham Hotel overlooking Apponaug Cove on Station Street on the east side of the West Shore Road underpass. Apponaug Waterfront Development LLC has conducted two community meetings to air its plans and is expected to formally file for a change in zone for the five-acre parcel now zoned for light industrial use.
City Planner William DePasquale has referred to the hotel as “one bookend” to village development, with its counterpart being the former saw tooth building of the Apponaug Mill. Much of the former mill property will be used for an extension of Veterans Memorial Drive west to connect at a roundabout at the convergence of Toll Gate Road, Centerville Road and Gilbane Street. The saw tooth building, however, was saved and Reynolds sees it as a component to a plaza connecting to “the historic core” of the city.
Planners have referred to the Warwick Station Development District as the city’s future “downtown” but Reynolds doesn’t imagine the seat of city government will change. While the downtown may be across from the airport and a rail connection, the “heart” of the city will still be in Apponaug.
The circulator is designed to divert traffic from the village core, providing a more pedestrian-friendly environment while expediting traffic flow. This will set the stage for pulling together existing and future uses in the village. As Reynolds terms it, the challenge “is how to connect the nodes.”
As for the circulator, Amoros said, “plans will improve traffic flow and make it safer for all users, from motorists to pedestrians. The proposed roundabouts will efficiently handle the traffic flow and keep vehicles moving throughout, while raised crosswalks and other measures will increase pedestrian visibility in the heart of Apponaug.”