2015-01-15 / Front Page

Broadway Loan Approved

By Barry Bridges

Newport councilors have unanimously endorsed a recommendation from the administration that promises to bring the Broadway Streetscape Project a step closer to reality.

At its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 14, council members approved a proposed agreement under which the city would loan $1.3 million to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to breathe new life into the initiative by spring. The transaction would finance costs that would otherwise be covered by federal funds that have been tied up by political wrangling on Capitol Hill. The agreement explicitly provides that the loan is “an effort to offset federal uncertainty and expedite … construction.”

The state would have up to two years to reimburse city coffers.

In a staff report, interim City Manager Joseph Nicholson wrote that “the advancement of the Broadway Streetscape Project has been hinging on the availability of federal funding for several months. Although RIDOT recently advertised and received construction bids … in order to move the project as far through the process as possible so as to expedite construction startup upon release of federal funding, the contract award date and asso- ciated start date remain uncertain. Working collaboratively, city staff and RIDOT officials have developed a strategically innovative solution that will allow the project to proceed” by the springtime.

Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano gave credit to Newport Director of Public Services William Riccio as the architect of the unusual plan. “He negotiated the deal,” she said. “He used to work with RIDOT and has a great relationship with them. He was very proactive in helping to formulate this win-win situation.”

During the fall campaign and after being tapped as mayor, Napolitano cited infrastructure needs as a top priority. In a conversation with Newport This Week, she expressed her frustrations about the seemingly unending disruptions on one of the main thoroughfares into Newport and stressed that she wants to see Broadway completed.

“One of the difficulties has been trying to coordinate with the utility companies,” Napolitano elaborated. Replacing 100-year-old water pipes with wider and cleaner ones has been among the utility improvements made. “When they needed access to underground lines, we had to accommodate them, but previous paving was ruined in the process. Adding to the problem was a law against leaving work sites open, so we had to close them each evening and re-open them the next morning.

“Federal funding also became problematic,” she continued, describing the partisan gridlock in Washington that tied up the monies for much of 2014. “They finally approved the budget; Rhode Island’s allocated share should now be coming through, but we don’t know when,” she said.

“With this loan proposal, we want to front the money so that the project is shovel-ready once the weather is warmer,” explained Napolitano, who also emphasized the multi-faceted nature of the streetscape plans. “It isn’t simply a re-paving. It also provides for sidewalks, bike lanes, and bump-outs consistent with the goals of national Complete Streets guidelines.”

The Engage Newport website describes the “vital role of Broadway” and the goal of making the street “as welcoming, commercially viable and historically sensitive as possible.” Over the past decade, city officials, advisory committees, abutters, and the general public have helped to define the parameters of the street’s future.

The project envisions roadway improvements to Broadway and Marlborough Street, from Bliss Road near Newport Hospital to Farewell Street. In the southern section, from Farewell Street to Cranston Avenue, work will consist of full-depth reconstruction of the roadways, including approximately 85 feet of Marlborough Street. It will also encompass sidewalk rehabilitation on both the east and west sides of the road, as well as new granite curbing, wheelchair ramps, raised crosswalks, landscaping, decorative street lighting, electrical cabinets, bike racks, street signage, and stormwater drainage improvements.

Work on the northern section, from Cranston Avenue to Bliss Road, will entail micromilling existing asphalt pavement and installing a new bituminous surface, adding supplemental street signs, and replacing traffic loop detectors.

The cost estimate for the project is close to $4.7 million, with the state agreeing to contribute $3.7 million from funds it receives under the Federal-Aid Highway Act. The city has placed its matching share of $1 million into an escrow account, with the supplemental $1.3 million to be transferred to a separate account.

“We truly intend to be reimbursed for this loan,” Napolitano said. “We didn’t want to take what we needed out of road program money, because there are other streets that need attention. Everyone should know that we’re serious about getting this done. People and businesses have been inconvenienced for quite some time.”

“Hopefully once spring arrives, the weather will cooperate and we can move forward with the necessary improvements to Broadway while putting an end to the work stoppages that have delayed our efforts,” she said.

At Wednesday's meeting, Councilor Marco Camacho concluded remarks by saying, "We are clearly well-managed when we can lend money to the state."

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