State kills plan for I-95 welcome center, cites opposition and site concerns

State kills plan for I-95 welcome center, cites opposition and site concerns

The Westerly Sun

HOPKINTON — The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has canceled its plans to build a tourist welcome center and transit hub in Hopkinton. RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said the decision was based on opposition from Hopkinton residents as well as environmental challenges at the location where the center would have been built.

“After listening to all the concerns about the environment and the impact on their aquifer, even without the gas facility, the impact that the waste water from the commercial operations there would have on it, there was a concern that the town had in terms of it becoming a state property, and therefore in the future their loss of potential property tax income from any businesses that might go in there in the future. And then we looked at our own studies that we did. There are a considerable amount of wetlands on the property that would have provided somewhat of a challenge in the construction, along with our archaeological study that we had done that showed that there were some artifacts of cultural and historic significance that would have created additional challenges.”

The state has also asked the Federal Highway Administration to rescind its application for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant which would have funded $9 million of the $12 million cost.

RIDOT will use some of the remaining $3 million that had been set aside for the project to make improvements to the existing rest stop on I-95 north in Richmond. Those improvements include the installation of electrical outlets so truckers can have heat and light without having to idle their rigs and the addition of more truck parking bays. The remaining funds will be used for road repairs throughout the state.

“Much of it, too, will be re-purposed for fixing more bridges,” Alviti said. “Lord knows we’ve got enough of them to fix.”

First proposed in October 2015, the 6,000-square-foot facility, at the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 3, would have offered tourist information, food, and other amenities. Some Hopkinton officials initially endorsed the project, but after hearing from residents and considering possible environmental issues, as well as the higher property tax revenues that the town might receive from other types of businesses at the 20-acre site, the council began to actively lobby against the project.

Last September, Richmond approached the state, asking RIDOT to consider building the new facility on the site of the existing I-95 rest stop that had been closed for two years. The state reopened the rest stop as a basic rest area, but after the election in November, the new Richmond council was no longer interested in pursuing the much larger transit hub project.

Meanwhile in Hopkinton, opposition to the transit hub continued to grow. Voters approved a nonbinding resolution opposing it last November, and on Feb. 21, the Town Council sent a resolution to state officials formally withdrawing support of the project.

Council President Frank Landolfi said he regretted his initial endorsement of the project, and said he was relieved the matter was settled once and for all.

“I certainly admit my fault in the early letter that went out and should have been brought to the council,” he said. “All in all, this whole thing has been an evolving process... The residents obviously didn’t want it, so I’m really glad they decided not to build it. For me, it came down to the fact that there were no tangible benefits, only downsides — traffic and crime.”

Alviti said that in the end, it did not make sense for the state to build the transit hub where it wasn’t wanted. The state does not intend to expand the Richmond rest stop or search for another site for the project.

“When you just sit back and take a very common sense viewpoint of this whole thing, we just felt as though in the world of our transportation system, that this is not a project that would have benefited the town in the way that we originally wanted it to,” he said.

Hopkinton resident John Pennypacker, a vocal opponent of the project and founder of the Keep Hopkinton Country advocacy group, said he was delighted to learn that the state had canceled the project.

“I’m absolutely thrilled that the state has re-evaluated the project,” he said. “I really think that sort of project can serve communities in Rhode Island very well. It just doesn’t make sense to do it in Hopkinton.”



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