by Molly Henry, New England Coordinator of the East Coast Greenway Alliance
On November 7th, local and state officials and active transportation advocates gathered in Woonsocket to celebrate the ground breaking for the Blackstone River Bikeway (BRB) segment 8C. The 0.6-mile segment starts at Cold Spring Park in Woonsocket and stretches to the Massachusetts state line at Meadows Park, North Smithfield.
Speakers included Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit, Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, President & CEO of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, Bob Billington and East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA) New England Coordinator, Molly Henry.
Director Alviti noted that this northern most section of the Woonsocket alignment for the BRB is slated for completion in two years (2020). Bob Billington and Director Coit both congratulated partners like the Paths to Progress Coalition, which acted as the driving force behind the successful $10 bike bond which was widely supported by Rhode Islander voters under the 2016 Green Economy Bond. A total of $1.4 million from the bike bond will contribute to the $4.5 million total construction cost of segment 8C.
Bari Freedman of Bike Newport attended the event to support the notion that paths like the BRB serve as tremendous resource for Rhode Island’s tourism economy. Bari feels strongly that every connection we make throughout the state will help us achieve the Paths to Progress goal to build-out a more connected and robust state-wide bike path network. She hopes that one day cyclists can ride the full length of the entire state on safe, traffic separated facilities, starting from the BRB at segment 8C, connecting to the East Bay Bike Path in Providence and continuing on to Newport via the future rail-with-trail developing along the western side of Aquidneck Island.
There are three additional segments of the BRB which are listed on the State’s 10-year Transportation Improvement Plan. These segments are critical to connecting segment 8C with downtown Woonsocket and the existing 10-mile BRB located just south of downtown Woonsocket. The ECGA is eager to see these additional segments on the ground so that the path will connect to the downtown core and help boost the local economy.
The Blackstone River Bikeway is a regional 50-mile envisioned biking and walking route connecting Worcester, MA and Providence, RI. Molly Henry noted that construction of 8C could not come at a better time. With the recent completion of the 3.7-mile Blackstone River Greenway just over the MA/RI line, this project will encourage more users to cross into Rhode Island and support the local businesses. Molly noted that it is entirely feasible for Rhode Island to be the first state to complete their portion of the East Coast Greenway – a developing 3,000-mile bicycling and walking route connecting communities from Maine to Florida.
At several points during his speech, Director Alviti acknowledged and commended Rhode Island’s bike advocacy community, regarding it as one of the most positive and effective stakeholder groups at RIDOT. A good reminder RIDOT hears us. Let’s keep up the great work!