NARRAGANSETT – The town will continue to push for the completion of the South County Bike Path to the town beach through Canonchet Farm, despite rejection of the route at the state level. A letter approved by the Narragansett Town Council from town manager James Tierney to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) outlines the town’s intent to use $3 million in state funding for further study of the path through Canonchet while dismissing state recommendations for an “on-road” route with modifications such as widening the streets propositioned to host the path and making them one way only. The letter comes about after extensive testimony from residents supporting the route’s completion through Canonchet Farm and expressing the potential flaws of alternative, on-road options for the path.
“During the workshops, a number of town council members and town residents expressed their opposition to the use of on-road segments of the bike path,” wrote Tierney to RIDOT. “The alternatives involving Wanda Street and/or Othmar Street were overwhelmingly opposed. This opposition was universally directed towards all design options from potential re-striping for one-way service to simple upgrading limited to directional signs and sharrows.”
The South County Bike Path was conceived in the early 1980s as an alternate means for children to get to local schools besides being bussed in. Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, the path competed with other developing cycling routes throughout the state, though 5.6 miles of path had been completed throughout South Kingstown in 2003. The now seven-mile path begins at Kingston Train Station and travels to the Narragansett Community Center. In 2016, 67 percent of Rhode Island voters approved a $35 million Green Economy Bond. $750,000 of that bond was earmarked for the completion of “Phase 4A” of the project, a minor extension from the path’s previous terminus on Mumford Road to the community center that began last year.
Meanwhile, the end point of the path was debated for years in Narragansett, and a plan to bring the route through Canonchet Farm, down Anne Hoxsie Lane, spilling out onto Ocean Road and ending at the town beach, now known as “Phase 4B,” was ultimately selected as the preferred option. To that intention, about $8 million in state funding had been earmarked for the completion of the path through Canonchet Farm, though late last year, RIDOT informed the town the route was not viable due to considerable environmental relief that would be needed to bring the path through the town-owned and wetland-heavy Canonchet area, relief that was determined to be necessary as a result of a readiness survey conducted by VHB Engineering, Inc. As such, RIDOT reduced the $8 million originally slated for the completion of the path to about $3 million, coinciding with an amendment to the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) to focus on roads and bridges, and proposed alternatives to Phase 4B that included bringing the path down Wanda and Othmar Streets and Narragansett Avenue. However, as mentioned in the letter, residents of Wanda and Othmar resisted the recommendation, taking issue with the potential widening of the street to make room for the path and the rebranding of the road to a one-way street going toward the beach. Further, residents testified against the Narragansett Avenue option, as the street holds heavy traffic to and from the town beach during the summer months, along with parking, both residential and commercial, on both sides of the road. Finally, many pushed for the town to continue the path to the beach despite a motion from town council president Matthew Mannix to designate the community center as its official point of termination. That motion was rejected in a council vote last month, where residents encouraged the body to utilize the $3 million in state funding rather than simply ending the route and potentially losing the allocation.
In the town’s letter to RIDOT, Tierney noted town staff had identified one route through Canonchet Farm that would result in “minimal resource and construction cost impact.” “Alternative 4” was shown, according to the town’s community development department, to have the least wetland impact.
“Since the original plan for the bike path was to end at the beach, the town council did not want the designated $3 million to be lost altogether and several suggestions were made on how these funds might be utilized,” wrote Tierney in the letter. “Noting that the town may have some excess funds left over from Section 4A, (currently under construction), a town council member suggested those funds be pooled with the allocated TIP funds to pursue design and permitting of one of the currently supported alternative alignments. On Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2020, [the council] voted down an agenda item calling to terminate that Bike Path at the Community Center and decided to amend the agenda item to reflect the following position to be forwarded to the RIDOT.”
According to the letter, three bullet points represent the town’s position on the matter after hearing from residents:
1. “Reiterate that [options for a route through Canonchet Farm] would be the town’s preferred route.”
2. “Emphasize that the town does not, and will not, endorse an “on-road” option with the modifications that were discussed.”
3. “Request that RIDOT authorize flexibility to expend some or all of the $3 million for advanced design and/or permitting of town-preferred alternatives.”
“On behalf of the town council, I am asking that the RIDOT make any necessary amendments to the TIP or other transportation plans or policies to authorize the transfer of funds to the town allowing us to carry out the above noted objective,” Tierney concluded in the letter. “The town understands that no further state funding is guaranteed for this worthy project yet we may pursue other funding options through our legislative delegation who stressed that they would assist us in this endeavor.”
State representatives Teresa Tanzi and Carol Hagan McEntee have attended Narragansett Town Council meetings on the subject and have advocated for the town to continue pushing for the completion of the path.
A draft of Tierney’s letter to RIDOT was unanimously approved by the council Monday night.