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The Tale Of Two Projects

The Providence Pedestrian Bridge and the Apponaug Circulator in Warwick - two signature construction projects completed by the state in 2019 -  provide a stark contrast in how their host communities have maintained them over the past year. One looks much the way it did the day it was opened, the other has been severely neglected - despite the city signing an agreement to maintain it.  Jim Hummel shows us.


You could call it: A Tale of Two Projects.

The $22-million Providence Pedestrian Bridge - looking much the way it did when it officially opened 12 months ago, even with tens of thousands of people using it over the past year.


And the Apponaug Circulator in Warwick, with more than a million dollars of landscaping - already neglected, weeds choking out many areas, chipped curbing, a charred “Welcome to Apponaug Village” sign and dead trees in expensive planter boxes. All because the city hasn’t taken care of the $71-million project since it was handed the maintenance keys by the state in December.


Campanelli: “This is what we’re supposed to have to welcome people to Warwick, it’s far from it.”

Steve Campanelli watched the project take shape since 2015. Campanelli worked as a landscaper for more than two decades.


Campanelli: “The landscaping as prescribed in the plans is not what was planted. Parts of it have died through attrition, it’s been replaced, but the biggest problem is nothing is being done to maintain it to promote the health and vitality of what’s actually planted here.”


The Rhode Island Department of Transportation built both projects - each one years in the planning and well over the original projected cost. Providence and Warwick signed ‘Construction and Maintenance’ agreements with the DOT, which shifted maintenance responsibilities to the local communities after the state completed its punch list following the respective openings.


While Providence has maintained the pedestrian bridge since it opened last August, the DOT and the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission continue to share responsibility for green space on either side of the river.


In Apponaug, the DOT spent $1.2 million on extensive landscaping around the five rotaries and the roads connecting them. It also spent $192,000 over the last 16 months it had responsibility for the project for a maintenance contract to make sure the new vegetation took root. The DOT handed over ownership to the city of Warwick on Dec. 1.


Campanelli: “I’ve called the mayor’s office, the mayor’s secretary, public works, department of highway, parks and rec, asked the same question: ‘What’s being done to maintain the landscaping here in the rotaries?’ I get shuffled from department to department to department with the question never being answered.”


Campanelli said it wouldn’t take much effort to improve what motorists see now: a thorough weeding and mulching of the median that runs in front of the Fire Department would be a good start. And a weed whacker in other places.


Campanelli: “First of all it needs to be weeded. Secondly it needs to be planted fuller than what it is and it needs to be mulched. The mulch is what maintains the vitality of the plants, it insulates the roots of any plant that’s in there. That not being done, the plants are in this arid condition, in this hostile environment being on the roadway. It’s not healthy for any plant that’s here.”


In a lengthy written response to questions posed by The Hummel Report, the city said it was working on a maintenance plan earlier this year, but everything has been put on hold with the pandemic.


A hot summer has contributed to the condition of the landscaping, the statement said. The city’s planning staff says it is working on a long-term maintenance plan to be implemented in 2021 - even though it’s know for five years it would be responsible for maintenance beginning in December.


Mayor Joseph Solomon is also proposing an “Adopt-A-Spot” program, so there will be no additional cost to taxpayers, adding that the city is waiting on insurance settlements to fix the damage caused by accidents.

Nilsson: “Graffiti and vandalism, those are two pretty hot ones right now.”


Wendy Nilsson is the Superintendent of the Providence Parks Department, which has overseen the maintenance of the popular bridge with the spectacular view of the city’s skyline.


Nilsson: “More people are using the bridge than ever, using all of our parks than ever, that is a really good thing. But people have less to do in many arenas of city life. And so we’re getting the good and getting some of the bad. But we are on top of it, we try to address things as soon as we hear about it or within 24 hours, so that any of that art that is left, quick disappears.”


A spokesman for the mayor’s office told The Hummel Report a year ago that the city was allocating “up to $92,500” for maintenance during the first 12 months.  Nilsson said while much of the maintenance and mitigation work has been done in-house, the city hired  an outside contractor to help remove extensive graffiti that had been spray painted this summer in the center of the bridge.


She said the city is purchasing  a utility vehicle that is light enough to drive onto the bridge for cleanings. Nilsson added that the black on the side of the bridge is natural aging of the Brazilian wood the DOT used to build the structure.


The Parks Department has also made emptying trash barrels on either side of the bridge a priority after the opening weekend a year ago, which resulted in overflowing containers. Providence Police officers also patrol the bridge regularly, mainly in the evening.

Nilsson: “Now more than ever this bridge is used as a destination for people to work out, for people to have dinner, for people to enjoy restaurants, for people to play, relax, explore the city. It’s really working.”

In Providence - and Warwick - Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.

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