PROVIDENCE — The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick retailer are all against it.
But the Rhode Island Department of Transportation is studying whether to permanently close the Gano Street off-ramp for Route 195 West in conjunction with a pair of major bridge projects.
During a tour of state highway projects last week, DOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. told the Globe that the department has commissioned two separate traffic studies that will help decide the fate of the Gano Street off-ramp, which closed in August 2018 but reopened Oct. 17.
As of Wednesday, 1,062 people had signed an online petition opposed to permanently closing the ramp. Opponents include the owners of the Central Meat Market, Silver Star Bakery, and the Simple Pleasures boutique, which sells candlesticks.
John Goncalves, a Fox Point Neighborhood Association board member, said he has had a lot of conversations with neighbors and local mom-and-pop business owners, and the overwhelming consensus is clear.
“People don’t want to see this exit permanently closed,” he said. “This exit is an indispensable traffic route to the neighborhood.”
While DOT will take into account the concerns of local businesses and residents, Alviti said the state also must factor in how much motorists would benefit from the $70 million Washington Bridge project, which would add a westbound lane on Route 195 while possibly closing the Gano Street off-ramp.
At peak times, 400 drivers an hour take the off-ramp — crossing lanes and merging with cars entering from Taunton Avenue — as Route 195 traffic backs up across the state line into Seekonk, Mass., he said.
“In transportation planning trade-offs, you don’t want to make it tremendously inconvenient for 400 people,” Alviti said while touring highway projects with US Senator Jack Reed. “But if it inconveniences 100,000 people, you have to realize that impact.”
Alviti said the state is working on an alternative to get people from Route 195 West to Providence’s East Side that could end up “equal to or better than” the Gano Street exit: A new Route 195 off-ramp would take drivers to Waterfront Drive in East Providence, where they could head north to the Henderson Bridge and cross the Seekonk River to Providence’s East Side.
The structurally deficient Henderson Bridge is on a fast track to be rebuilt as part of an $88.5 million project, which would narrow the span from four lanes to two lanes while adding roundabouts on either side.
The Department of Transportation just released a new design that includes one roundabout — rather than two — on the East Providence side of the Henderson Bridge. While that design is not final, switching to one roundabout would free up 3 or 4 more acres of land — in addition to the 35 acres that would become available for development as a result of the bridge project, DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said.
But a cobbler — Bruce Owensby, owner of Wayland Square Shoe Repair on Wayland Avenue — said it makes no sense to close the Gano Street off-ramp and divert traffic to a bridge that is about to be narrowed to just two lanes. He said cars crossing the Henderson Bridge would end up in an already congested area around Angell Street and Wayland Square.
“It sounds like a horror show,” Owensby said. “It’s going to be a logjam no matter how you approach it.”
Tony Cabral, owner of Central Meat Market on Gano Street, said he has already seen what closing the off-ramp would do to his business: Sales dropped by about 20 percent when the ramp was closed over the past year.
“Keep it open,” Cabral said. “Otherwise, it would be tough for me.”
Mary Moore, an owner of Simple Pleasures in Richmond Square, said the off-ramp is useful for local businesses and for people who live in the area, and she still misses the former Gano Street on-ramp for traffic heading east on Route 195.
“If they do use roundabouts, please include instructions for driving and courtesy because I have seen people misuse the roundabout in front of my business for years,” Moore said.
Nick Cicchitelli, president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, said he believes the Route 195 traffic bottleneck stems from the nearby junction with Route 95, rather than simply being attributable to the off-ramp.
“I don’t necessarily buy it, so I don’t see it as reason to close the exit,” Cicchitelli said. “The overwhelming preference from the neighborhood is to do both — keep the Gano Street ramp open and build a new ramp on the East Providence side.”
The Department of Transportation is listening to the concerns raised by residents and business owners, St. Martin said. “But we also listen to the data and the traffic analyses,” he said.
The department has completed one traffic study, it’s working to finalize a second one, and a third study will be completed in December, St. Martin said.
“These three studies will provide us the data on which to make informed decisions,” he said. “The final design will not only serve the local community, but the thousands of people in traffic on I-195, backed up all the way to the Massachusetts line every day.”