Providence hires firm to study streetcar project

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The city’s planning department has tapped a Boston-based consulting firm to oversee a “planning and engineering services” study on the proposed streetcar line in downtown.

HDR Inc., the same company that helped the city craft its original plans for the streetcar project several years ago, will be paid $1.7 million for the study. The Providence Board of Contract and Supply and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) still need to approve the contract.

“HDR worked with the city and RIPTA on the Core Connector study,” Evan England, a spokesman for the Elorza administration, told WPRI.com. “When the city went out to bid for engineering services, HDR was the lowest bidder.”

In April, Bonnie Nickerson, the city’s director of planning, told WPRI.com the detailed engineering study will help “refine the cost estimate” for the project. She said the study will also allow the city to apply for additional federal funding.

City officials have said the proposed 1.6-mile streetcar line – which would begin at the Providence Amtrak station and end near the main entrance to Rhode Island Hospital – will cost $100.2 million. Future extensions of the line would include College Hill on the East Side and Dudley Street in South Providence.

The city has secured $13 million in federal funding and wants to borrow $57.7 million through tax increment financing (TIF) to pay for its share of the project, but it would still need another $30 million to cover the projected construction costs of the streetcar line.

City officials have said they plan to seek state support and additional federal aid, but the proposal took a hit earlier this year when Gov. Gina Raimondo said she thought a streetcar was a “nice to have, not a need to have” project, during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

The proposal has strong support from Mayor Jorge Elorza and City Council President Luis Aponte, who have said the streetcar will be essential to the city’s vision for economic development over the next several decades.

HDR is one of the most respected architectural and engineering services consulting firms in the country. The 98-year-old company has worked on dozens of streetcar projects, including lines in Dallas, Kansas City and Washington, D.C.

“Our expertise is vast, as are the services we provide,” the company states on its website. “We can help you with program management, route and stop location planning, engineering, urban design, architectural design, traffic modeling, vehicle procurement, operations and maintenance planning, ridership forecasting and funding and federal support.”

HDR beat out CDR Maguire Inc. and AECOM to win the contract from the city.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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