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RI Department of Environmental Management
235 Promenade St., Providence, RI 02908
(401) 277-2771 TDD/(401)-222-4462
For Release: July 2, 1997
Contact: Peyton Fleming 277-2771
Stephanie Powell 277-2771 ext. 4418
DEM ANNOUNCES CONSTRUCTION OF BLACKSTONE RIVER BIKE PATH TO BEGIN IN FALL
PROVIDENCE - The RI Department of Environmental Management announced today that construction of the first 3.3 mile segment of the Blackstone River Bike Path will begin after Labor Day. Solicitation of bids is expected after Federal Highway and RI Department of Transportation approval later this month.
Frederick Vincent, acting director of DEM, in making the announcement, called the entire 17-mile bike path "the most significant environmental infrastructure project in DEM's history." The Rhode Island portion of the bike path will run between Pawtucket and the Massachusetts border in North Smithfield, where it will continue to Worcester. At its southern end, bikers will be able to travel bicycle routes along city streets in Pawtucket and Providence, to join the East Bay bike path and travel on it to Bristol.
"The Greenways Council established by Governor Lincoln Almond to stimulate greenways in Rhode Island is extremely enthusiastic in backing the Blackstone Bike Path," Vincent said. "Rhode Island is a leader in greenways development, and the bike path is a major element in the statewide greenways plan. The path will be a great asset to tourism and the environment.
"There is a lot of history through the entire bike path area," said Vincent, who has been meeting with the Blackstone Tourism Council which is looking toward celebrating the millennium. "The bike path is a unifying theme throughout the communities of the Valley.
"It is also," he said, "the result of a grass roots effort that began in the 60s, when a group from Lincoln worked with Governor Almond when he was town administrator to preserve the Blackstone Canal and land along the canal banks into a conservation and recreation area." The land was owned by Frank Ronci, Sr., who donated it to the state in 1983 in memory of his nephew Paul Ronci, an ardent outdoorsman.
The first segment is being developed on land already owned by DEM in Lincoln, and will go by the historic Kelley House where the department is developing an educational exhibit space that will include the history of the Blackstone Canal and its changes throughout the years, from its beginning as a natural resource, through its years as an industrial resource, and which, through grass roots efforts and environmental standards, has been turned around and cleaned up to support species of fish that have not been seen in generations.
The segment, from Front Street to Route 116, will include three new bridges, three new parking areas, and retaining walls along the canal towpath. Since the towpath is a National Register Historic Site, it will be covered with a special surface of asphalt with a rolled stone top so it will look like the original towpath. There will be a canoe launch site and a small canoe parking area. The route was chosen to maximize the scenic and historic areas, blended with suitability for bikers, and ease of maintenance, and will work with natural features, Vincent said.
The entire 17-mile bike path, he noted, will disturb only a cumulative one-quarter of an acre of wetlands, and DEM will overcompensate for that by constructing a larger wetland elsewhere.
The RI Department of Transportation funded design of the first phase with $.8M in federal Intermodal Surface and Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) funds.
"The Department of Transportation believes in alternative modes of transportation and in providing opportunities for alternative modes of transportation whenever possible. It is a pleasure to partner with agencies such as the Department of Environmental Management on projects such as the Blackstone River Bike Path," said DOT Director William D. Ankner, Ph.D.
Design work, supervised by DEM, has been done by the firm of Vanasse, Hangen, Brustlin. Construction, at a cost of $3.3M, is expected to take one year, and will be paid with funds freed by U. S. Sen. John Chafee from the federal Public Lands and Highway Fund, a special discretionary funding source for scenic and park roads.
Senator Chafee, who obtained a provision in the 1995 National Highway System bill which made the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor eligible for this funding, said that "the Blackstone River Bikeway will be a marvelous way to showcase the towns of the Heritage Corridor and provide a healthy alternative for commuters. I am pleased that I was able to work with federal highway administration officials to ensure funding for the project."