After all these years Gov. Lincoln Chafee deserves a hard hat. In fact, he could have used it yesterday as state officials and the full Rhode Island Congressional delegation celebrated the beginning of the 3-year, $30-million Apponaug Circulator Project.
Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicillini all applauded Chafee’s unwavering commitment to improving village traffic flow with the redevelopment of Apponaug. Likewise, Mayor Scott Avedisian recalled how Chafee made the project a priority when he was mayor and carried it forward as a U.S. senator.
Avedisian remembered the call he received on his private line in 2006. Avedisian said a “decent day” became a “good day” when Chafee told him he had funding for the Interlink, also a Chafee pet project. It became a “great day,” when Chafee added that he also secured funding for the circulator.
“It was his effort that got the $5 million to start the project,” said Senator Reed. “Without that, we would still be thinking [dreaming].”
“This has been a Linc Chafee project for a very long time,” said Senator Whitehouse, who dubbed the project, “The Linc Chafee Circulator.”
Chafee said he could have used the hard hat when a gust of wind sent the city of Warwick flag and pole onto his head and into his lap as he sat in front of it yesterday. But the governor quickly recovered and brushed the incident off, along with the pole and flag as he laughed at the unscripted twist to the program.
More formally, Chafee said the investment in the city and state infrastructure is one way to grow the economy. He also noted the innovative use of roundabouts that will replace conventional signalized intersections and expedite travel through the former four corners.
“We’re going all in with five roundabouts,” he said, with a tinge of pride.
In comments before the ceremony, Chafee said the project, scheduled for completion in December of 2017, would “return the village to the way it should be.”
Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis called the roundabouts “unique,” although they have proven themselves in Europe and in other parts of this country. As for the Apponaug rotary system that former Mayor Joseph Walsh implemented in the late 1970s, Lewis likened the one-way system to “the leisure suit that’s seen its time and has come and gone.”
Before the ceremony, Lewis said the circulator was “on the books” when he was appointed director. He said what put the project over the top was the $10 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant announced last year. He said the circulator is “really an opportunity for the village to redevelop … it’s not just a bypass.”
Referring to the convergence of roads in Apponaug, they made it a village, he said, but the emphasis in the ’60s and ’70s turned to “how to move cars at the expense of the community.”
With completion of the circulator, Veterans Memorial Drive will be extended to the Centerville-Toll Gate Road intersection. It will have two-way traffic, enabling motorists to bypass the village if they need to. The result will be a reduction of traffic in front of City Hall – about 24,000 a day now – and the creation of a pedestrian-friendly environment expected to stimulate business development and livability in Apponaug.
Lewis said the roundabouts enable motorists “to make connections without the conflict of traffic or the feel of strip malls.”
The congressional delegation emphasized the importance of TIGER grants, as well as a long-term federal highway bill.
“I don’t think we can have too much infrastructure improvements,” said Whitehouse.
Federal Highway Division Administrator Carlos Machado said the president considers roadwork “one of the best investments.” He said the circulator would make for a safer road.