A Hummel Report Investigation
Taxpayers in Providence have spent millions of dollars to repair and repave several high-profile and high-traffic streets in the city, including one that has a newly-created bicycle lane. So why has a utility company targeted them for additional work - and potential duplication of effort - already? Find out what happened when Jim Hummel started asking questions.
To see the 2008 agreement between Providence and the utilities click HERE (pdf).
Riding a bicycle through many streets in Providence can be a risky proposition. That's why Jim Damico was excited to see a dedicated bike lane on Broadway when the city repaved the road last fall.
Damico: ``It's great, because you don't have to worry about driving into a pothole.''
Damico commutes by bike from his home in the city's Manton section - to his job on the East Side.
Damico: ``As a bicyclist and a commuter this is another alternative for me to get to work and then I noticed they were doing construction and they were repaving and I was like oh great, they're going to put in a bike lane. It was beautiful.''
Broadway quickly became Damico's route of choice after the city completed a $1.8 million repaving project.
Then, a wrinkle....
Damico: ``The next time I rode, maybe it was a week later, less than that, I noticed they had marked up the road with utility spray. It seemed like as soon as the pavement had cured, the utility companies went out and marked it up again;''
And that meant someone planned to rip up the road again.
Damico: ``But I also kind of wonder who's watching out for the taxpayer's dollars, because this sort of endless loop of ripping up, you know repaving roads, then ripping them up as soon as they've been repaved is not a good use of taxpayer money. I couldn't get any response from my councilman, I couldn't get any response from the Dept. of Public Works Committee at City Hall so I was just like do they care? What's going on if there's no response?''
So we took Damico's concerns to Bill Bombard, the acting director of the city's Department of Public Works.
Bombard: ``After we spoke I looked up what the permit was for and identified who the applicant was. We notified them if this has to happen now then we're going to make you pave a significant portion of the road, repave a significant portion of the road and restore all of the pavement markings.''
Hummel: ``Which is pretty costly.''
Bombard: ``It is. It is.''
The applicant was National Grid, which planned to do some maintenance work on a section of Broadway. And when that happens all the utilities need to mark where they have presence on the road so whoever is doing the project will know what to avoid.
Blue is Providence Water.
Yellow is gas.
Orange is telecommunication.
And white is pre-marking for future work.
Bombard tells the Hummel Report the city signed an agreement in 2008 with the utility companies to avoid this type of scenario.
Bombard: ``We put in a clause that protects the streets for five years. Not that we're precluding all work - but during those five years we can ask them to take extraordinary or above average methods to restore the street to what it was. We've told them we'd like them to postpone the work, because it wasn't of an emergency nature and we'd like them to wait until the five years is up. And we've had no objections yet.''
So what happened on Broadway?
Bombard: ``Our technicians have access to a list that identifies all the roads that have been paved. People are human, sometime they'll miss one. Sometimes the description on the permit isn't as clear as we'd like and it's not apparent it's within the protected area. I mean that section of Broadway that you speak of we paved as far as the off ramp of Route 10. It wasn't clear from the description exactly where that was. Sometimes if the permit identifies a street number it may not be exactly clear if it falls within the limits of where the work happened. Besides that people are human, mistakes happen.''
Bombard said the city is talking with a Massachusetts company about a GIS computer program that would help avoid situations like the one Damico found on Broadway.
Bombard: ``So everybody knows what everybody's doing. And it identities if there's a water main replacement project and road resurfacing project it actually sends you an email saying you have a conflict here that needs to be resolved.''
Bombard says it's particularly important because the city has spent millions of dollars to repave and improve Empire Street, Weybosset Street and PPAC Square and Dorrance Street, which looked like this before the repaving.
We found that utility markings have also appeared on Dorrance because a developer is converting the old National Grid/Providence Gas building into a mix of residential and commercial space.
Bombard: ``National Grid came to us and said the only way we can do that is to dig up the street.
So we sat down with them, we talked about different ways of how we could treat it, the limits of the work. And we've come up with what we think is a reasonable solution to the problem. I believe that if we were to say no, we're in essence taking away someone's legitimate use of their property and that opens up all kinds of legal ramifications.''
Hummel: ``And so what's the compromise here with them?''
Bombard: ``The compromise is the electric company is going to go in and open up the road and they're going to use a process called infrared treatment, which heats up the asphalt that they're putting in and the old asphalt, which is relatively new. And it allows them to blend it together and you end up with a seamless installation.''
Damico says protecting the investment is essential as Mayor Angel Taveras has proposed a $40 million bond issue to rehab and repave streets across the city.
Damico: ``I believe that we should do everything we can to protect the taxpayers' investment.
Because these are our roads - our tax dollars pay to maintain these roads.''
In Providence, Jim Hummel For The Hummel Report.