PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Transportation plans to temporarily reopen Exit 3, the Gano Street exit off of I-195 westbound, RIDOT Director Peter Alviti announced Wednesday.
The exit, which carries drivers coming from East Providence to Fox Point, has been closed for more than a year. It has recently been the subject of much debate after RIDOT signaled plans to keep the exit closed permanently. East Side businesses have created a petition to push back and sent a letter to RIDOT on Wednesday.
Drivers trying to access the Fox Point area from I-195 west have been redirected to use the South Main Street exit prior to the I-Way bridge instead.
“Losing hundreds of cars per day has meant fewer customers enjoying the many area coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques, and other retail locations,” the letter said in part. “The permanent closure of the I-195 Westbound Gano Street off-ramp could lock these losses in and threaten the viability of businesses that are so important to the vibrancy of these neighborhoods.”
Business owners across Fox Point and Wayland Square told Eyewitness News the closure has hurt their bottom line.
“The majority of the business owners, including a lot of the restaurants, have said that since the exit’s been closed their sales are all down,” said Jessica Leach, who leads the Wayland Square Merchants Association.
On Gano Street, the owner of the Central Meat Market, Tony Cabral, said he’s lost at least 10-percent of his customer base and sometimes isn’t able to pay himself. His business has been on Gano for 32 years.
Roz Rustigian, who owns Rustigian Rugs on the corner of Wickenden and Governor Streets, said she’s felt it, too.
“Throughout the street the merchants here have found as a result of that exit closing, a diminution of business,” she said. “I know my traffic is way down.”
John Goncalves, a resident and board member of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, said the consensus is clear.
“This exit is a main vessel to their existence and livelihood in the neighborhood,” he told Eyewitness News. “From the Central Meat Market to Silver Star Bakery, these are mom and pop shops that have been around in the community for a very long-time and are an integral part of this community. I’ve seen them nearly in tears over this proposed closure.”
Alviti said merchants’ complaints have not fallen on deaf ears. Asked whether RIDOT had always planned to temporarily reopen the exit, or if community push back changed his mind, he said it was a combination of both. He said the issue was something that his staff had been debating.
Alviti said RIDOT expects to reopen Exit 3 within the next two weeks, depending on weather conditions. He said it will remain open until RIDOT is able to build and open a new exit from I-195 West onto the Henderson Bridge, which he estimated conservatively will take at two years.
Leach said she hopes reopening the exit makes it harder to close again, but Rustigian thinks RIDOT is simply trying to placate folks like her.
“To potentially endanger the livelihood of what used to be the foundation of the United States — small business — in these neighborhoods, really needs to be considered,” she said. “I’ve gone through many changes in my own business, but this one’s unnecessary.”
Alviti maintains the new plan will allow people to access area businesses more efficiently in the future.