A Rough Ride
A multimillion-dollar project that began last spring to replace aging natural gas and water pipes in Providence has left many on the East Side navigating ripped-up roads, dodging uneven patches and wondering when work on their street will begin and end. This week, Jim Hummel hits the streets for some answers.
If you live in - or travel through - the East Side of Providence, there has been a lot of this (construction and bumpy rides).
As National Grid and Providence Water are spending millions of dollars replacing aging natural gas and water lines. It began earlier this year and will continue into next spring after a break for winter weather.
Some of the residents here wonder: who’s in charge and are the utilities and the city talking with each other, as roads like these sat ripped up for nearly a month, after being partially torn up and repaved earlier in the year.
Binder: “There’s no accountability is what it comes down to. The street was dug up because they were changing the water, they were changing the gas , they were doing a lot of different work here since the summer.”
Mark Binder has lived on Morris Avenue for more than two decades. He’s had a front row seat for the construction.
Binder: “Natio0nal Grid, literally two weeks before had just finished repaving, and all of a sudden the street is being ripped up again.”
Hummel: “On the other side…”
Binder: “On the other side, because in Providence, the rule is this: National Grid is responsible for repairing National Grid work, Providence Water is responsible for repairing Providence Water work. So even though the street is a standard street’s width and it takes the same amount of work and time, they’ll only rip up their half of the street and leave the other half to be fixed by somebody else.”
Perrotta: “It’s an unprecedented amount of work being done in the city. We’ve seen millions of dollars being spent, for the first time in a long time. With that, there are some growing pains.”
Leo Perrotta is the city’s acting Director of Public Works and ultimately signs off on the utilities work - even though contractors hired to do the pipe replacement are supposed to have their own inspectors in the field.
“We meet with them on a regular basis, we share with them the roadwork that we’re doing. And then they share with us the work that they’re proposing to do, so that we’re not working (at) cross purposes.”
Adding to the traffic disruptions this year: paving the city is doing as part of a $20 million bond - like this project last month on Hope Street. It’s made for some challenging travel.
And while the utilities are supposed to leave roads in the same - or better condition - as they were before construction, many we found some that Providence Water had worked on, looked like this.
Binder: “There was a divot, right at the bend, that was there for almost a year and who is responsible for that? Is that National Grid, was that Providence Gas, was that the water, who knew what that was?”
Providence Water declined to make any of its engineers or administrators who could talk about specifics of the projects available for an interview; instead providing written answers through a spokesman, whose communication firm is paid $4,000 a month by the utility.
So we took video of three different streets to get Perrotta’s assessment of the work. The same video went to Providence Water.
Perrotta: “Yeah, that an improper, improper patch. It should be up to the existing line.:
Hummel: “Can that go through the winter?”
Perrotta: “Probably not, because it’ll end up being a pothole at some point. It’ll get worse, it will be defective. I mean there’s numerous other cases where we’ve shown them that the patch is not up to standards, and you need to dig it out, re-do it and do it properly.”
Then there was this patch right outside Brown Stadium
Perrotta: “That’s, that, unacceptable. That’s a void. Ultimately it falls on the city because we have to live with the results. Every time we see them, we make it known.”
Hummel: “Okay, one more.”
Perrotta: “It’s something that we would have to look at. It looks like you’ve got a little bit of a crack on the edge where they milled it, it probably isn’t straight milling line and it probably should have been. And you’ve got some settling on the side. That’s one we definitely would have to look at.”
The city didn’t have to: within days of getting the video we sent, contractors for Providence Water had fixed all three problem areas that we had pointed out to Perotta, and will get motorists through the winter until a permanent restoration can be made next spring.
Perrotta: “They like to defend their work, and when the criticism is due we give it to them.”
Hummel: “But at the end of the day if there’s a difference of opinion…let’s say that, who has the final say?”
Perrotta: “City standards have to be upheld, so that’s the bottom line.”
Hummel: “ And have you asked for corrective work in some places?”
Perrotta: “Oh yes, absolutely, yes.”
There are many roads that look like this: fully restored with a fresh coat of asphalt. Others will have to wait until 2020.
On a Tuesday night last month, Ward 3 Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune held a community meeting that Perrotta and other city officials attended. The issue of road construction was on the mind of some.
LaFortune said the utilities have not been good about keeping residents informed.
LaFortunte: “They are not good at communication. That has been a problem. You don’t know when the work is going to start, but I”ve asked for a timeline in advance so that we have an idea of when some of these projects are going to take place. So come spring, when these projects kick off, if we can just get an idea of: this month, these are the areas we’re focusing on, this month the next area. Just have a timeline, and you might say between these weeks, these are the streets. At least people…it might not be the actual date, but people are not startled.”
Perrotta: “We’ve put the onus on the utility companies to reach out to the residents and let them know what’s going on. We’ll make the extra effort to let people know what’s happening. We’re going to take the information from those utility companies and post it on our website and let people know. We rely on them to give us a very specific timeframe.”
Binder said notices like this one finally went up on Morris Avenue the day after the community meeting, but it was another three days before the road was paved. He says contractors paved over some storm drains and this is what it looked like the next day from Binder’s front porch when heavy rains arrived.
Hummel: “What is your message to people having to put up with this?”
Perrotta: “We understand it’s not easy, it can be trying at times, it can be an aggravation, because they’re living with it, whether it’s the unkept road or the dust, but the end product is: you’re going to have brand new utilities, water, gas, a brand new road. It’s great for the neighborhood, it’s great for the city, we just ask for patience. The end is coming soon. They’ll be finished and then we’ll start again next spring and hopefully next year we can do the same thing, but do better.
In Providence, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.