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This 2000 photo shows the Newport terminus of the RI 138 Expressway just east of the Claiborne Pell-Newport Bridge. This expressway stub was to have continued north and east as I-895. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

A PROVIDENCE BYPASS ACROSS NARRAGANSETT BAY: The need for a Providence bypass across Narragansett Bay had been studied since the 1930's, but it was only after World War II when the state accelerated its studies for bridges and approach highways. The first serious plan appeared in 1953 when a coalition of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York officials proposed the "Cape Cod Expressway," a 260-mile-long toll road from New York City to Provincetown. The planned route across Narragansett Bay was designed to not only bypass Providence, but also provide improved access to recreational areas and military installations.

The dawn of the Interstate highway system in 1956 killed plans for the turnpike, but much of the route was part as I-95, I-195, and US 6. The only major component of the proposed expressway that was not built was the section through eastern Washington County and Aquidneck Island. Rhode Island officials made an early attempt to submit this route to the Federal government for inclusion in the Interstate highway system, but withheld its submission because of the lack of adequate planning data.

Around this time, highway officials also proposed an "East Shore Expressway" that was to bypass the existing two-lane RI 114 through East Providence, Barrington, Warren and Bristol. The East Shore Expressway was to be built as a state highway with 50 percent (not 90 percent) matching Federal funds. An early section of this expressway, a connection between I-195 and Wampanoag Trail, opened to traffic in 1959.

THE SOUTHERN BYPASS BECOMES AN INTERSTATE: In 1966, officials in Rhode Island and Massachusetts reiterated plans for a southern Providence bypass, but this one was further upstream than the 1953 proposal. The bypass, which together with I-295 was to form a full beltway around Providence, was composed of the following components:

  • The RI 37 Expressway was to continue east of US 1 in Warwick across Narragansett Bay through Barrington and Warren, then veer north into Massachusetts to I-195 (EXIT 2) in Swansea.

  • The proposed route was to be extended north past I-195 through the communities of Swansea, Rehoboth, and Attleboro to the I-95 / I-295 interchange in Attleboro.

Officials from both states submitted the route - which they proposed as an extension of I-295 -- to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in 1968, hoping the route would be included as part of the additional 1,500 new Interstate miles authorized nationwide. The FHWA approved the route in 1969, but provided a new designation: I-895. By connecting to I-295 in Massachusetts, the new I-895 was to complete the beltway around Providence to the east and south. The original route of I-895 was to extend approximately 15.8 miles (costing $47 million) in Massachusetts, and approximately 12.1 miles (costing $115 million) in Rhode Island.

From the I-895 submission report:

The 28.0-mile-long highway… would form a circumferential route around the southern and eastern fringes of the Providence-Pawtucket Urbanized Area, complementing I-295 which performs the same function to the west and north of this major metropolitan community. It would provide urgently needed relief for I-95 and I-195 within the core of this urban area. It also will permit long-distance travelers between New York and Connecticut, and the Fall River-New Bedford metropolitan area and Cape Cod, to bypass this congested urban core.

Scheduled for completion by 1975, the proposed four-to-six-lane I-895 was designed to carry approximately 60,000 vehicles per day (AADT) between I-95 in Warwick and I-195 in Swansea. However, strident opposition in the densely populated communities of Warren and Barrington, as well as concerns that a high-level fixed bridge across Upper Narragansett Bay would affect air traffic at nearby T.F. Green Airport, stopped the initial I-895 proposal.

This 1968 map shows the original routing I-895 across Upper Narragansett Bay. The map shows I-895 and the existing I-295 were to form a beltway around Providence. It also shows a spur route, the East Shore Expressway (RI 114), which was to extend south from I-895 toward the Mount Hope Bridge and Aquidneck Island. (Map from "Proposed Interstate System Adjustment," Rhode Island Department of Public Works and Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1968).

AN ALTERNATE PROPOSAL FOR I-895: In 1971, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) submitted an alternate route for I-895 that extended south from Swansea, Massachusetts along the route of the East Shore Expressway (RI 114) toward the Mount Hope Bridge - where a parallel span would have been built - and Aquidneck Island. In Newport, I-895 was to turn west over Narragansett Bay's East Passage across the newly opened Newport (Pell) Bridge and the West Passage across a new four-lane Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge. I-895 was to parallel RI 138 west to I-95 near the existing EXIT 3. The construction cost was estimated at $330 million, not including the cost of replacing the Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge, but including the cost of building a parallel Mount Hope span.

The RIDOT also provided a second alternate route for I-895 that would have used the existing Fall River Expressway (RI 24) instead of the Mount Hope Bridge-East Shore Expressway alignment. This alignment, which was the same as that proposed more than two decades earlier for the "Cape Cod Expressway," would have cut approximately $130 million from the cost of building I-895. It was a nod to those in the East Shore who did not want an expressway running down the spine of Bristol.

Interchanges were to have been built at the following locations:

  • I-95 (North-South Expressway), Wyoming
  • RI 138 (Kingstown Road), Wyoming
  • RI 2 (South County Trail), Exeter
  • URI Connector, Kingstown
  • US 1 (Tower Hill Road), North Kingstown
  • RI 1A (Boston Neck Road), Saunderstown
  • Helm Street / Beacon Island, Jamestown
  • East Shore Road, Jamestown
  • RI 238 (Farewell Street; may have been upgraded to arterial), Newport
  • RI 138 (Admiral Kalbfus Road), Newport
  • Greene Lane, Middletown
  • RI 114 (West Main Road), Middletown
  • Split for Mount Hope-East Shore alignment (RI 114) and Fall River (RI 24) alignment, Middletown

In approving the revised route in 1974, the FHWA said I-895 would do provide a bypass south of the Providence metropolitan area, as well as the most direct connection between I-95 and the Fall River-New Bedford metropolitan area. It also would provide a direct connection between Navy facilities in New London, Newport, and Cape Cod, while serving interstate tourist traffic between the New York City area, Newport, and Cape Cod. Finally, I-895 would improve traffic flow between communities on the east and west sides of Narragansett Bay.

The RIDOT initiated corridor location and environmental impact studies in November 1975. Following the December 1978 publication of a draft environmental impact statement, the RIDOT and Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW) held four public hearings on the route during the summer of 1979.

After years of environmental studies and contentious public hearings, along with concerns from the Navy that the "Burma Road" alignment along the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay would compromise security, the RIDOT and the MassDPW requested deleting I-895 from the Interstate highway system in December 1979. However, it was not until December 30, 1982 that the FHWA formally removed the I-895 designation through Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

This 2000 photo shows the an abandoned stub ramp that was to connect the RI 138 Expressway (proposed I-895) to the unbuilt southbound RI 238 Connector, which was to be built along a railroad right-of-way. The existing two-lane RI 238 was to serve northbound traffic exclusively. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

TRADING IN I-895 FUNDS FOR LOCAL IMPROVEMENTS: As the 1980s dawned, the RIDOT submitted the following substitute plans for the I-895 corridor, which were comprised mostly of a rebuilt and relocated RI 138:

  • The existing two-lane RI 138 was to be upgraded to a four-lane highway from I-95 in Wyoming east to the area of RI 2 in West Kingston.

  • From the vicinity of RI 2 east to US 1 in North Kingstown, RI 138 was to be relocated onto a new alignment as a four-lane highway. There was to be a new four-lane arterial connecting the University of Rhode Island campus in Kingstown with the new RI 138.

  • The existing RI 138 Expressway was to be upgraded from a controlled-access "super-2" to a four-lane freeway from US 1 east to the Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge.

  • A new four-lane Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge was to be built over the West Passage of Narragansett Bay. The proposed multi-span concrete box girder bridge was to replace an obsolete two-lane cantilever bridge.

  • RI 138 was to be built on new alignment as a four-lane freeway through Conanciut Island (Jamestown). A four-lane arterial upgrade on existing alignment (Eldred Road and East Shore Road) was studied but was found to have deleterious effects on Jamestown.

  • A new RI 138 four-lane arterial was to be extended north of Admiral Kalbfus Road along either Burma Road or closer to the existing RI 138.

Plans for the new Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge were finalized in 1984 and work started the following year. The $161 million bridge was completed in 1992. Two years later, the $23 million RI 138 Expressway connecting the Jamestown-Verrazano and Pell-Newport bridges through Conanicut Island was opened to traffic.

The RIDOT received permission to begin acquiring land for the relocated RI 138 arterial west of US 1in 1991, but in 1993, the RIDOT shelved plans for this project, citing it would have been "impossible" to obtain the proper environmental permits.

However, with the downsizing of the Navy's operations on Aquidneck Island east of the Pell (Newport) Bridge, plans for a controlled-access alternative along Burma Road have been re-adopted for a "parkway" design similar to that on the RI 138 Expressway through Jamestown. More recent efforts have focused on building a bikeway along the Burma Road corridor and adding more bus service, but chronic congestion and roadway deterioration along RI 114 (West Main Road) and existing RI 138 (East Main Road) may yet force RIDOT to reconsider a new highway through Aquidneck Island.

This 2002 photo shows the westbound RI 138 Expressway at the US 1 interchange in Kingstown. Beyond the point where the expressway ends one-half mile ahead, the proposed I-895 was to continue west to I-95. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

INTRODUCING THE NARRAGANSETT TURNPIKE: The once-proposed I-895 from I-95 in Washington County to the MA 24 / I-195 interchange in Fall River should be built as a new toll road known as the Narragansett Turnpike. The new turnpike would comprise the existing Pell-Newport and Jamestown-Verrazano bridges, as well as existing sections of the RI 24 / MA 24 and RI 138 expressways. New expressway sections would be built through Washington County and Aquidneck Island.

The proposed Narragansett Turnpike, which would be administered by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA), would utilize congestion pricing, meaning that peak users (particularly those from out-of-state) would pay for the turnpike. It would receive the I-695 designation as a bypass of I-95 and I-195.

SOURCES: "New England Road Project Backed," The New York Times (10/29/1953); "New England South Shore Highway," Interstate Study Committee (1953); "Narragansett Bay East Passage Crossing: Preliminary Engineering and Economic Report," Rhode Island Department of Public Works (1955); "Traffic and Highway Study for East Providence, Barrington, Warren and Bristol, Rhode Island," Wilbur Smith and Associates (1955); "Rhode Island Roads," Rhode Island Department of Public Works (1956); "A Highway Program for Rhode Island," Rhode Island Department of Public Works (1959); "East Shore Expressway," Rhode Island Department of Public Works (1966); "Proposed Interstate System Adjustment," Rhode Island Department of Public Works and Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1968); "The Interstate Highway System in Rhode Island: A Force for Change in Rhode Island" by Dieter Hammerschlag, Brian K. Barber and J. Michael Everett, University of Rhode Island (1976); "Interstate 895: Final Environmental Impact and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Rhode Island Department of Transportation (1984); "North Kingstown, Exeter Join To Get Route 138 Access Road" by Barbara Davis, The Providence Journal (4/22/1986); "State Route 138: Final Environmental Impact and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Rhode Island Department of Transportation (1987); "Review of the Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge," Office of the Attorney General, State of Rhode Island (1990); "Ex-Foe To Take on DOT Again; State Denies Reviving Plans for Route 895" by Stephen Heffner, The Providence Journal (10/03/1992); "Transportation 2010: Ground Transportation Plan," Rhode Island Department of Transportation (1992); "After 20 Years, DOT Gives Up Fight for New Highway" by Stephen Heffner, The Providence Journal (11/19/1993); "Foes Seek To Stymie Jamestown Expressway" by Stephen Heffner, The Providence Journal (2/10/1994); Steve Alpert; Michael Kendricks; Scott Oglesby; Alexadner Svirsky.

  • I-895 and I-695 shields by Ralph Herman.
  • RI 138 shield by Barry L. Camp.


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