The Rhode Island Department of Transportation's project to reshape the road skeleton of the Jewelry District is at the end of its planning phase, said Lambri Zerva, design project manager for the Iway relocation project at the RIDOT. The plans are concordant with the University's vision for the area, which includes the future site of Brown's new Medical Education Building.
But the plans do not specifically lay foundation for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority's proposed streetcar lines.
The schematic design for the Medical Education Building was approved in October and has not been significantly altered since then, wrote Michael McCormick, assistant vice president of facilities management for planning, design and construction, in an e-mail to The Herald.
Construction on the building will begin next month, and RIDOT only plans to restructure the streets north of where the edifice will stand, Zerva said. "We're not really building that many streets, actually. We're just connecting existing streets," he said.
RIDOT planners aim to begin re-stitching the ground infrastructure by the summer of 2011, as soon as the old I-195 highway is completely torn down, Zerva said. They predict the work on the area's streets should be complete by the end of 2012. "We will ensure that we will not be precluding better access to the area, but building better access to the area," he said.
What will take longer to complete is the streetcar system envisioned for the neighborhood. While RIDOT plans to complete the streets before the installment of streetcar lines, "we most likely will not preclude the use of streetcars on what we build," Zerva said. The layout of the tracks depends on the planned path of the streetcars, which hasn't been determined yet, he added.
What is more, the streetcar will most likely not pass through Richmond Street — site of the future Med School building, Zerva said.
Amy Pettine, special projects manager in RIPTA's planning department, agreed with this analysis, explaining that as of now the planned route for the streetcars is merely "conceptual," and predicting that the "final design (of the route) could take anywhere from one to two years, depending if funding is in place." She added that the timeline for the completion of the system is still long. "We've been talking about 2015 being a goal for us," she said.
"Even the most optimistic schedule for a streetcar is several years beyond the completion of the Medical School, and there are still many hurdles to cross before it will be realized," McCormick wrote, echoing Pettine's words.
RIPTA "certainly won't be digging up streets (RIDOT) will complete in two years," Pettine said. She explained that any overlap between the reconstructed streets and the streetcar lines will not be problematic, since tracks for streetcars don't require delving as deep into the asphalt as other, heavier rails.
RIDOT's plans for the area also include the construction of two new parks located along the river and a pedestrian bridge, Zerva said. "Once we take down the old highway we can build the city streets, and in that time frame we will build the parks — one on the east side and one on the west side" of the river, he added.
The University has been working with RIDOT on these additions, along with new pedestrian crossings at Ship Street and Dyer Street, McCormick wrote. "Plans for each of these continue to evolve, and we are pleased with the results so far," he added.
RIDOT's blueprints for the modifications have not otherwise encountered much opposition from local residents. "There was a little bit of resistance to our initial plans, but that's all part of our public process," Zerva said.