PROVIDENCE — About four out of every 10 Rhode Islanders live in Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence, Cranston or Warwick, but if you wanted to get from the northernmost city in that urban core to the southernmost via a RIPTA bus, it would take at least an hour and a half and multiple routes.
RIPTA is trying to change that, potentially with a light-rail system or a bus line that operates just like one. It’s now $900,000 closer to that goal: The transportation agency that runs bus services in Rhode Island got a grant from the federal government to study the feasibility of making that a reality.
“It’s a huge win not only for RIPTA, but all riders who use public transit in the state,” said Scott Avedisian, RIPTA’s CEO, at a news conference in Providence Monday announcing the grant.
Compared to the costs of actually building out the system, the transit authority is still a long way away from the goal of a transit line between Central Falls and Community College of Rhode Island’s campus in Warwick via downtown Providence. The capital costs of building the bus rapid transit system would be $562 million, with an operating cost of $14 million a year, according to RIPTA. The light rail system would run $1.6 billion in capital costs, with an operating cost of $22 million a year, RIPTA said.
But the initial $900,000 will be a first step toward that goal, and help get the state on track to get the money to complete it. The corridor would be about 15 miles long.
The $900,000 is coming from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program, called a RAISE grant, through the U.S. Department of Transportation. U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Rep. David Cicilline joined Avedisian at the RIPTA operations and maintenance garage on Elmwood Avenue in Providence to tout the grant.
If light rail ends up happening, it would be the first such rail system in Rhode Island since the age of the streetcar decades ago, according to RIPTA. Light rail systems are electrified, and would operate both in exclusive rights-of-way, dedicated lanes on roadways, and even in mixed traffic.
A “bus rapid transit” system is similar to light rail, except with buses rather than rail systems. It’s cheaper than light rail, and both options usually involve frequent service and dedicated lanes.
Whether it’s a light rail system or a bus rapid transit system, the proposed route would go from Central Falls down through Pawtucket, Providence, Cranston and eventually CCRI in Warwick.
Developing such high-capacity transit was one of the five ideas in the Transit Forward 2040 plan, put out by state planners in December 2020.
Projects like the Central Falls-Warwick line would help “significantly shift the transportation mode and model in Rhode Island,” Avedisian said.
“We want to get people out of their cars, and into our buses,” Avedisian said.