COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — Plans to build a road that would connect both sides of the Centre of New England Boulevard is a critical, life-saving project, according to Hopkins Hill Fire Chief Frank Brown.
The plans, that have been in the works for years, have hit a roadblock because of a dispute over who should pay for it.
The road that runs through the Centre of New England abruptly ends on the east and west portion of the popular shopping plaza in Coventry. Wetlands from Tiogue Lake divide the boulevard.
Brown has been advocating for the road to be built for years because emergency responders have to take a longer route when a 911 call comes in from the Centre of New England.
The main concern is a senior living facility that is in the Centre of New England. Brown said the department gets about one call per day there.
Emergency crews from the nearby Hopkins Hill Fire Department are forced to take another route that takes them nearly three times longer to get there.
“The importance of this road going through is a matter of life and death,” Brown tells Eyewitness News. “Unfortunately, our response time is seven minutes and we have had calls here that if we were here sooner, maybe there would have been a better outcome.”
The developer of the Centre of New England had plans to build a six-lane road connecting the two ends of the boulevard, but when he went into receivership in 2013, the project came to a halt.
The court appointed Matt McGowan as the receiver of the Centre of New England. He said the roads there are privately owned.
McGowan said the state helped line up a $4.5 million bank loan to build the connector and related roadway infrastructure improvements.
Tenants of the shopping plaza, including Walmart and Home Depot, have pushed back at having to pay back that loan. McGowan is trying to get a court order to require them to.
“The practical reality is that while we are arguing about those legal issues, those roadways continue to deteriorate,” McGowan said.
After several court appearances, McGowan explained there has been some progress. Parties involved have agreed to form a committee to find a solution.
“I am optimistic that the informal committee is going to continue to work with me and we are going to come up with some consensus about how to address the problem,” McGowan said.
McGowan submitted plans to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) for a four-lane road that would connect the boulevard. He says the road would cost roughly $1 million to build.
The connector would also add what Brown said is another critical way in and out of the shopping center.
“A lot of people enter this area every day and with one way in and one way out it’s just a recipe for disaster,” Brown said.
McGowan is hopeful the dispute will get resolved within the next year so they can start construction.
“We are looking forward to the day this road is completed,” Interim Coventry Town Manager Ed Warzycha said.
The Centre of New England Boulevard is also home to a hotel and dozens of condominiums.