Metro

RIPTA presents proposed new line

$127 million streetcar line could promote economic development

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Clarification appended.

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority presented its proposal for a new streetcar service to residents and Brown community members last night at Brown-RISD Hillel in the final of three discussions meant to gauge reaction to the proposed service.

A streetcar line would be expensive — the estimated capital cost is $126.7 million, versus an estimated $15 million for a bus route — but Mark Therrien, assistant general manager of RIPTA, said “long-term vision is key, even during short-term crisis.”

The major difference between development around a bus route and around a streetcar route is that a streetcar route is permanent and would assure businesses of the long-term benefits of moving near a route, according to Therrien’s presentation with Amy Pettine, special projects manager for RIPTA. The benefits of the proposed line are divided equally among improved mobility and economic development, he said.

Nearly 3 million square feet of vacant and developable land lies “within striking distance of this route,” Therrien said. RIPTA hopes to “capitalize” on expected development in areas such as the Jewelry District.

There are several transit options for the proposed route, which would connect College Hill with downtown and the Jewelry District, including a regular bus system and a trolley system. Therrien said these options would only connect Providence and would not bring the economic development a streetcar service would foster.

Pettine said streetcar routes have spurred economic growth around the country, pointing to successful systems in Portland, Ore. and Seattle. Forty-five percent of jobs in Providence are within a quarter mile of the proposed streetcar route, Therrien said. RIPTA has estimated the line would create about 6,000 new jobs. The project is “extremely data-driven,” Pettine said.

The presentation led into a lively debate as Pettine and Therrien took student questions. Some students were concerned the route would not include hot spots like the Providence Place Mall and the train station. Others, like Will Palmer ’15, said the service should not be centered on students’ needs because residents and University employees would be more likely to use it.

Residents asked how weather conditions could affect the route, which would go up College Hill to reach Thayer Street. Pettine said the service would function just as current bus service functions and would be contingent on plowing in winter.

Pettine told The Herald that this was the best-attended event of the three held this week. The first was held on the south side of Providence and the second, held earlier yesterday, took place downtown. Pettine said the plan drew “very similar” reactions at all three meetings.

But business owners downtown were “skeptical” about the proposed taxes on businesses around the route, Therrien said. Businesses within a half mile of the route would be taxed for the increased value of their property if the streetcar line were to be constructed.

Mary Shepard, a resident of Middletown and a self-described “transit activist,” said she “loves” the proposal and hopes local artists can participate in designing the cars and stops.

A previous version of this article indicated that Will Palmer ’15 said faculty and residents would be more likely to use the planned streetcar route. He said University employees, not faculty members, would be more likely to use the new transportation.

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