Jack Reed tours East Side Bus Tunnel

United States Senator Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island) met with Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) officials to tour the East Side Bus Tunnel and discuss new federal funding to design and improve the tunnel, which is over 103 years old. The nearly 2,000-foot long tunnel is critical for RIPTA bus operations that run east to west and links Thayer street shoppers, employees, and students to downtown and transit connections.

The East Side Tunnel was originally built for streetcar use in 1914 and is the state’s sole fixed-guideway bus infrastructure. The two-lane tunnel runs east/west under College Hill in Providence, connecting Thayer Street to the east with South Main Street to the west, with a 100 foot change in elevation. The tunnel allows RIPTA vehicles to climb College Hill at a manageable 4-5 percent grade incline, avoiding the grades in excess of 10 percent on the streets above. Streetcar tracks were removed in the late 1940s and the tunnel has since been used for bus traffic.

The tunnel is the only bus-only route in Rhode Island, though RIPTA plans more downtown, including a direct route from the tunnel to nearby Kennedy Plaza.

Currently, seven bus routes and RIPTA’s rubber-tire trolley line use the tunnel, carrying about 4,500 daily passengers (over 536,000 per year). The Thayer Street tunnel stop is the 6th busiest stop in RIPTA’s statewide system of nearly 4,000 stops.

Reed announced a new $903,000 federal grant to help upgrade the tunnel.  The federal funds may be used to lay the groundwork for needed repairs and long-term upgrades to improve bus traffic safety and operational efficiency of the tunnel, which serves almost 10 percent of RIPTA’s riders.

The nearly 2,000-foot long concrete tunnel is critical for RIPTA bus operations that run east to west and link Thayer street shoppers, employees, and students to downtown and transit connections.  According to RIPTA, almost 1,680 buses travel through the tunnel weekly.  Police, fire, and rescue vehicles use the tunnel as needed.

RIPTA officials note the tunnel is structurally sound, but requires repair due to water damage from water infiltration and resultant cracking in the liner.  It also needs an updated drainage system and water mitigation systems.  RIPTA’s plans include the development and impletion of both a short and long-term master plan for the tunnel.  The agency has completed physical reviews and initial evaluations of the tunnel’s assets and will now enter the design phase, allowing an opportunity to begin development of construction bids for phased work on the tunnel, with some interim work addressing lighting improvements and upgrading passenger amenities to improve customer’s experience.

“This federal funding is a down payment on upgrading this historic and heavily trafficked bus tunnel.  The East Side Bus Tunnel is an important transit link for RIPTA riders, but its last major rehab project took place nearly thirty years ago.  As we work to ensure it is in a good state of repair, we also should look at things like lighting and technology to ensure it operates as safely and efficiently as possible, and that is part of what RIPTA is focusing on right now,” said Reed, the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation Housing and Urban Development (THUD).  “As we saw today, this concrete tunnel requires repair due to use and exposure to the elements over many, many decades.  It will need some T-L-C and we will need to see what 21st Century improvements can be introduced.  That’s why RIPTA’s plans include the development and impletion of both a short and long-term master plan for the tunnel.  And I am committed to working with RIPTA’s leadership to help the state get federal funding to meet infrastructure priorities like this.”

“The East Side Tunnel has served as an essential component of Providence’s transportation network since its opening in 1914.  Today, it is the state’s only exclusive right of way for buses, helping link residents of East Providence as well as Thayer street shoppers and college students to downtown Providence and beyond.  RIPTA is grateful to Senator Reed for his leadership to address the need for investment in our state’s aging infrastructure.  The Tunnel provides a critical connection in our state’s public transportation network and we look forward to making the necessary repairs to continue its use well into the future,” said RIPTA Interim CEO Amy Pettine.

The East Side Tunnel was originally built for streetcar use in 1914 and is the state’s sole fixed-guideway bus infrastructure.  The two-lane tunnel runs east/west under College Hill in Providence, connecting Thayer Street to the east with South Main Street to the west, with a 100 foot change in elevation.  The tunnel allows RIPTA vehicles to climb College Hill at a manageable 4-5% grade incline, avoiding the grades in excess of 10% on the streets above.  Streetcar tracks were removed in the late 1940s and the tunnel has since been used for bus traffic.

Currently, seven bus routes and RIPTA’s rubber-tire trolley line use the tunnel, carrying about 4,500 daily passengers (over 536,000 per year).  The Thayer Street tunnel stop is the sixth busiest stop in RIPTA’s statewide system of nearly 4,000 stops.

During the tour, Reed noted that buses and rail are smart investments in terms of reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, and creating convenient connections for people to get to work or travel around the state and the region.

[Note: Most of the information about the tunnel was supplied by Senator Reed’s office in the form of a press release.]

Here’s video of Reed and RIPTA’s interim CEO Amy Pettine discussing the federal money and the bus tunnel:

Jack Reed


Addendum: Here’s Reed answering questions about foreign policy, unrelated to the tunnel:


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About Steve Ahlquist 453 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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