By EMMA BARTLETT
and FRANKLIN PAULINO
It’s a Friday morning and Bit Ruong is waiting on customers at Park Ave Nails. Ruong has been in business for 15 years and while it’s been …
By EMMA BARTLETT and FRANKLIN PAULINO
It’s a Friday morning and Bit Ruong is waiting on customers at Park Ave Nails. Ruong has been in business for 15 years and while it’s been going well, things could be a lot better. Her business is not even a quarter of a mile down the road from the Park Avenue railroad bridge which has been closed for construction since May of 2021. When asked about how business has been affected by the Park Avenue railroad bridge closure, her facial reaction and sigh is similar to other business owners’ responses in the area.
“I hope they’re done soon,” said Ruong, asking when the bridge will be completed.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation's (RIDOT) railroad bridge project was supposed to take four months to complete; however, the replacement of the structurally deficient wood deck bridge has already turned into a yearlong endeavor. The bridge carries Park Avenue (Route 12) over Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, between Elmwood Avenue (Route 1) and Wellington Avenue and is a vital link in the community. According to RIDOT, 15,000 cars passed over the Park Avenue railroad bridge each day.
Back at Park Ave Nails, Ruong said about 70 percent of her business has been affected. Customers have gone elsewhere because it’s too much of a hassle to get to the nail salon. During the closure, motorists have been following a detour using Elmwood Avenue (Route 1) and Wellington Avenue which RIDOT estimated is a six to 10 minute travel time. For pedestrians who used to be able to cross the bridge, RIPTA is running a free and daily shuttle around the bridge at 30-minute intervals from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Since the closure, Ruong has gone from seven employees to four due to the low volume of customers. While she has built up a following of regular and loyal customers, some of her employees have only gotten two customers in a day. She also closes her shop early and said the neighboring stores have done the same since the number of customers aren’t what they used to be.
Across the street and diagonal from Ruong’s business is Pelos Beauty Center. Maria Severino, who works at the shop, said with the bridge closing and cars not being able to get through, the Pelos Beauty Center does not have the visibility it once did. Severino said her Providence clients don’t want to stop by because it’s too complicated to get to the shop with the construction; she said one woman who didn’t know the bridge was closed arrived at the store and became aggressive and angry with Severino about the construction even though it was out of the business’s control. Additionally, Severino said one client took RIPTA to Elmwood Avenue and waited three hours for a bus that would take her over to Pelos Beauty Center. After waiting for a bus that never came, the client took an Uber to get to the business. Severino said Pelos Beauty Center was hit by the pandemic, but the Park Avenue Railroad Bridge closure was what really has deteriorated business.
What’s been worked on?
Throughout the Park Avenue railroad bridge repair process, RIDOT has provided updates via its website – with the last update being April 14. On Tuesday, RIDOT Chief of Public Affairs Officer Charles St. Martin shared what’s been worked on since mid-April.
“We removed the temporary gas line, a utility bridge that was used to carry utilities while the bridge was replaced and back filled the approaches on both sides in preparation for construction of the approach slabs,” said Martin.
The approach slab connects the roadway pavement to the bridge, and St. Martin said the concrete for the approach slabs will be poured this week.
Additionally, one of the issues that caused the bridge closure to be longer than expected was the lack of Amtrak inspectors that were needed on site in order for repairs to occur. Because inspectors varied week to week, contracted workers planned for four hours of work each night, oftentimes resulting in two and a half hours of work. St. Martin said the project is at the stage where RIDOT no longer needs Amtrak services.
St. Martin said the overall project is on time, with the bridge to open to vehicles in mid/late-July. Additionally, RIDOT is on budget for the $11.7 million project.
Waiting for the bridge to open
Down the street from Pelos Beauty Center, Suhey is running her own shop: Unique Hair Salon by Suhey. She said many of her clients come from Massachusetts, and she will warn them about the railroad bridge construction and tell them not to take Exit 16 off Route 95.
The bridge closure has also had an effect on restaurants. At Pizza Fair – a local mom and pop pizza place on Park Avenue and has been around for 15 years – John B said the company has had to raise delivery costs because of the increase of gas and taking into account the longer drive.
“You went from going half a mile to two miles,” said John.
Meanwhile, at the Lunch Box Restaurant at 751 Park Ave., Sandy Tavares is hard at work serving customers Hispanic food. During the pandemic, he implemented delivery services (such as Grubhub) to help his business survive. He said the bridge has affected delivery services since a delivery service may decline an order because it’s too far of a drive and not worth the amount they’d be paid. Tavares has been a Cranston business owner for the past nine and a half years. He believes that business will for sure pick up once the bridge opens.
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