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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 73 · No. 5 > Small State, Big Vision

March/April 2010
Vol. 73 · No. 5

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-10-001

Small State, Big Vision

by Corey Bobba, Ann L. Clarke, Stephen Devine, and Norah Davis

Rhode Island is constructing an intermodal transportation facility to connect an existing interstate and airport with a new train station and rental car garage.

The new Intermodal Facility includes a skywalk, shown here under construction.
The new Intermodal Facility includes a skywalk, shown here under construction.

Rhode Island is leading the way in intermodal transportation. Aided by a number of strong partnerships, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) are developing an intermodal transportation facility that centralizes transportation access by connecting trains, planes, buses, and rental car operations.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), intermodal transportation enhances mobility by shifting traffic from congested highways to rail and other modes. Improving system performance and capacity through intermodal operations is critical for the Northeast Corridor, where the ability to add new highway capacity is limited. By reducing highway congestion, seamless connections among travel modes also help improve air quality, economic productivity, and quality of life.

In constructing the $267 million Intermodal Facility, RIDOT is taking advantage of the contiguous locations of Interstate 95 (I-95), U.S. Route 1, an airport, and commuter rail. T.F. Green Airport, a medium-size commercial-service hub, is located about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) off I-95 in Warwick, RI. The airport is a 10-minute drive from Providence, RI, and an hour from Boston, MA.

When the project is finished, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will extend commuter rail service from Boston and Providence to Warwick and North Kingstown, RI. In addition, Amtrak® already offers long-distance train service to nearby Providence.

This complex and high-profile model of intermodalism has several components: a train platform for commuter rail service, a six-story garage for rental cars and public parking that straddles the train tracks, a three-story building containing services for rental car customers, and an intercity bus stop. In addition, a 1,250-foot (381-meter) elevated and glass-enclosed skywalk with moving walkways will transport travelers between the train platform and the airport terminal, spanning U.S. Route 1. Escalators and elevators will convey passengers down from the skywalk to the terminal.

Aerial map. This aerial map of the intermodal facility shows labels (from left to right) for I–95, the airport connector road, the Intermodal Facility straddling the Amtrak Northeast Corridor tracks, Post Road (U.S. Route 1), the T.F. Green Airport, an airport road, and Main Avenue.
Map. This map of the New England States shows Boston, Providence, Warwick, the major airports, passenger rail lines, and interstate highways.
Legend
The intermodal transportation connections include I-95, two State routes, the Intermodal Facility straddling the Amtrak Northeast Corridor rail tracks, U.S. Route 1, and the T.F. Green Airport in Warwick.

At an August 2009 press conference, Kevin A. Dillon, president and chief executive officer of RIAC, said that he soon will be able to "market Green Airport's link to commuter rail. This is considered an attractive option by our current carriers, as it will provide an additional and convenient way for our customers to access the airport. It is also of interest to international carriers and passengers, who depend on this type of connectivity. This facility will be a true transportation gateway for the region."

Nearly 20 years in the making, this historic transportation hub has not been without critics and cost increases. Nevertheless, the facility is on track for completion on schedule by fall 2010. In addition to major public-private partnerships, the Intermodal Facility features innovative financing and a number of "green" elements. Here is the tale of the development of this remarkable facility.

The Back Story

In 1989, RIDOT began identifying potential locations for transit facilities and 2 years later began evaluating this location for a rail-to-airport connection. An article in The Providence Journal by Peter B. Lord summarized the subsequent events as follows:

In 1992, Warwick's local elected officials proposed a train station next to the airport, and environmental leaders flocked to support this forward-looking intermodal concept. In addition, U.S. Senator John H. Chafee had cosponsored a national highway bill that would enable States to use a percentage of highway funds for transit projects.

Five years later, in 1997, former Governor Lincoln Almond and Warwick then-Mayor Lincoln Chafee (the Senator's son) revived the train station idea and quoted a price tag of $15 million. The following year Senator Chafee, Mayor Chafee, and Governor Almond announced plans for a $15 million train station connected to the airport by a $10 million "people mover" (a self-propelled horizontal elevator or elevated tram).

The State gradually began to develop partnerships and acquire land for the project. Federal funds were slated to be used to finance the construction, but suddenly RIDOT discovered a monkey wrench. Then-Director William D. Ankner pointed to a RIDOT study indicating that the people mover alone would cost $23.5 million; thus private investors would be needed to help build it in exchange for the right to develop retail space.

By 2001, RIAC had agreed to invest $130 million in the people mover and a garage that would consolidate rental car facilities and solve parking limitations at the airport. Then came the attacks on 9/11. The potential for declining airline ridership and corresponding reduction in rental car transactions led the rental car companies to become uncertain about their support of the project. And then another glitch. The Rhode Island General Assembly failed to authorize $40 million in finance bonds. When the governor tried to bypass the assembly by asking the State Supreme Court to approve the bond sale, the court turned him down.

Governor Donald L. Carcieri took office in 2003 and renewed negotiations with the various stakeholders. Also in 2003, RIDOT proposed the skywalk in place of the people mover to gain operational and maintenance benefits. By then, RIDOT had made all land purchases for the project.

In 2005 the new U.S. transportation law, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), authorized RIDOT to proceed with negotiations with Amtrak to extend the MBTA commuter rail service south of Providence to Warwick and North Kingstown.

Finally, with the pieces in place and the General Assembly and rental car companies back on board, the governor broke ground for the new train station in July 2006. In late 2007, RIDOT then-Director Jerome F. Williams directed design to be finalized and construction to begin.

This crane lifted the 160-ton (145-metric ton) skywalk above the arrival, departure, and commercial roadways and set it into place at night, limiting disruption to travelers by beginning work after the airport’s last flight of the evening had landed.
This crane lifted the 160-ton (145- metric ton) skywalk above the arrival, departure, and commercial roadways and set it into place at night, limiting disruption to travelers by beginning work after the airport's last flight of the evening had landed.

Many Parts to the Puzzle

Without strong public-private partnerships across multiple jurisdictions, the Intermodal Facility never would have seen the light of day. According to RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis, construction is proving to be the easy part. Quoted in The Providence Journal July 17, 2009, he said, "What people can't see is the jigsaw puzzle of Federal and State agencies, agreements, financing bundles, and engineering logistics that had to be pieced together. The $267 million burden is being shared by RIAC, the Federal Government, and the State through a combination of bonds, grants, and revenue streams."

Public partners include RIDOT, Economic Development Corporation (EDC), RIAC, the Rhode Island Division Office of FHWA, Amtrak, MBTA, the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, and the city of Warwick.

Private partners include the rental car companies, Gilbane Building Company (the construction manager), and a host of other engineering, construction, and architectural firms. The breakthrough with the rental car companies came when they agreed to relocate their operations from the airport into the new facility and to collect customer facility charges to subsidize operations and debt repayment for the project.

In addition, the partnerships cross State jurisdictions — Rhode Island and Massachusetts — and also encompass several municipalities — North Kingstown, Providence, and Warwick. Complicating matters is that RIDOT owns the land where the airport and Intermodal Facility are situated, and RIAC is in charge of operations. RIDOT managed the project during the planning, programming, environmental, and design phases, while RIAC handled the contract, construction, and overall project management and delivery. What's more, Amtrak owns the tracks where MBTA transit runs the commuter service. The difficulty of obtaining agreements among these entities challenged the project from the beginning.

A Showpiece of Transportation Benefits

Among the Rhode Island project's anticipated benefits are tangible performance improvements to the transportation system: expanded commuter service and more convenient air and highway travel. Transportation and elected officials expect a reduction in traffic congestion and overall improvement of the performance of the local and regional transportation system. They project an 8 percent reduction in traffic volumes on U.S. Route 1 and the airport connector road alone. The consolidated rental car facility will improve traffic flow by eliminating rental car shuttle buses and shuttled private vehicles from local roadways.

Also among the transportation benefits are gains from improvements to the airport. Currently, it serves more than 4.5 million passengers per year, with 200 daily operations (that is, takeoffs and landings). Projected growth is 7.5 million passengers and 325 daily operations by 2020. To accommodate the anticipated growth, Green developed a master plan in 2001 and supplemented it in 2004.

Then in 2008 the airport completed a massive terminal improvement project to streamline travel by minimizing congestion, improving security, and enhancing concessions. The airport now is studying parking and roadway improvements. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration is conducting an environmental impact study on the projected demand and need for an airport expansion. Currently under evaluation are safety and efficiency upgrades to a secondary runway and an extension of a main runway. A longer runway would enable the airport to accommodate nonstop coast-to-coast and international flights, plus to attract additional airlines to T.F. Green.

Primary Funding Sources for the Intermodal Facility

Funding Source

Dollars (Millions)

Percent of Total

FHWA

$124.6

46.7%

State Matching Grants

$31.1

11.7%

TIFIA

$42.0

15.7%

First-Lien Bonds

$39.6

14.8%

Customer Facility Charges

$29.6

11.1%

Total

$267.0

100%

Source: RIAC.

"We are at an impor-tant crossroads," says Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. "Extending the runway and much needed infrastructure improvements will put us in a position to meet the needs of airlines and air travel consumers while at the same time positively impacting our economic future."

RIAC's Dillon believes the Intermodal Facility will give T.F. Green an edge over the competition. "We're looking forward to [completion of the Intermodal Facility] because that becomes a major marketing enhancement for us," he says. "International carriers are looking for that rail and airport connectivity."

An Economic and Environmental Home Run

Direct benefits to the local and regional economy are anticipated, both during and after construction. At its peak, the construction alone is employing 300 workers onsite and is expected to take about 530,000 direct man-hours to complete. The project is creating jobs in three categories: direct (for example, construction and trade), indirect (materials suppliers), and induced (local sandwich shops and gas stations). Rhode Island residents make up two-thirds of the workforce, with the balance from Massachusetts and Connecticut. Eighty companies, many from Rhode Island, are serving as subcontractors. These statistics are in addition to the jobs supported in engineering, architectural, and other disciplines.

The skywalk stretches across U.S. Route 1 (Post Road), as suggested in this construction photo.
The skywalk stretches across U.S. Route 1 (Post Road), as shown in this construction photo.

Warwick's redevelopment agency is finalizing plans to enable the city and private developers to capitalize on the new Intermodal Facility by building an adjacent downtown district that will have a greater land use density than what is there today. Draft drawings show hotels, conference centers, offices, and retail space. A grant from the FHWA Transportation, Community, and System Preservation Program to RIDOT is helping with this planning.

"In the decade since the Intermodal Facility was first proposed, local and out-of-state developers, lured by the promise of the train station, have invested tens of millions of dollars in new development and redevelopment projects," says Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian.

One of the project's overall goals was to create a showplace for employing small businesses. To attract disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs), the construction manager and airport are striving to meet a DBE participation goal of 10.9 percent. To help meet that target, the two partners hosted two open houses for approximately 140 individuals, who received information on the contracts, upcoming bids, schedules, subcontractors, and guidance on becoming certified as minority or woman-owned business enterprises.

The economic gains are not all. The intermodal project carries green benefits as well: improvement in air quality through reduced traffic congestion and remediation of a brownfield site (an area contaminated by former manufacturing activities) to create the site for the parking garage. In addition, various project components incorporate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) features and offer climate change benefits from decreasing the carbon emissions produced by vehicles.

Other environmental benefits include green features engineered into the new buildings, as reported on the airport's Web site: recycled and regionally manufactured construction materials, including steel, aluminum, and concrete fly ash, plus 17,500 square feet of flooring; energy-efficient elevators and moving walkways; high-efficiency, noncondensing boilers; lighting controls using photocells, occupancy sensors, and time switches; and water-conserving restrooms.

This view of the T.F. Green Airport terminal was taken before construction of the Intermodal Facility began. In addition to commercial air and cargo service, the airport offers taxi, limousine, and local and intercity bus service, plus rental cars from nine companies.
This view of the T.F. Green Airport terminal was taken before construction of the Intermodal Facility began. In addition to commercial air and cargo service, the airport offers taxi, limousine, and local and intercity bus service, plus rental cars from nine companies.

One-of-a-Kind Package of Innovative Approaches

"Innovation is critical at this time of enormous resource constraints, increasing demand for services, aging infrastructure, and increasing maintenance costs," says Division Administrator Peter Osborn, head of the FHWA Rhode Island Division Office. "The Intermodal Facility exemplifies innovative solutions and involves a number of innovative approaches in contracting, financing, insurance, safety, and construction features," adds Osborn.

Instead of the conventional design-bid-build approach, RIAC selected a construction manager-at-risk contract. Under a traditional method, the contracting agency or its engineering consultant designs a project and prepares the construction contract, which then is awarded to the lowest bidder. Under the construction manager-at-risk approach, on the other hand, the contracting agency hires a construction management firm as an advisory consultant during the preconstruction phase. The construction manager provides the contracting agency with a guaranteed maximum price and acts as the general contractor during the construction phase, just as a prime contractor would under the traditional design-bid-build method. The construction manager-at-risk alternative allows construction to begin while the design is proceeding, thus potentially reducing the total project cost and duration. (See "Megaproject Procurement: Breaking from Tradition," Public Roads, July/August 2004.)

In another innovative approach, the project drew on a Federal loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998 (TIFIA), which established a Federal credit program for projects of national or regional significance. RIAC received a $42 million TIFIA loan and passed along $12 million of that to the private sector, specifically to the rental car companies to help them pay the cost of moving into the facility and fitting it with quick-turnaround fueling systems, car washes, and vacuum systems.

In a third innovative funding approach, RIAC began collecting customer facility charges on rental car transactions in 2001 to help repay the TIFIA loan and the facility's operational expenses. These customer facility charges help leverage the available Federal and State dollars.

The partners are enhancing safety and reducing the project's costs by using an owner controlled insurance program (OCIP), which is centrally procured insurance. The OCIP, also referred to as wrap-up insurance, replaces the approach in which each contractor and subcontractor purchases its own insurance — typically a large line item in a contract — and passes that cost on to the project owner. The owner purchases liability insurance and workers compensation that covers most of the contractors and subcontractors on the jobsite. Rolling the insurance under a single umbrella policy reduces costs because of volume discounts and increases safety because the owner has a financial incentive to implement aggressive risk management and consolidation of claims.

To further reduce insurance costs and improve safety, the project supplements the construction manager's safety philosophy with a project-specific safety plan. In addition, a private health-care company, Medcor®, provides an onsite aid station with an emergency medical technician for every hour that the jobsite is open. This specialized workplace health management enables treatment to be provided the moment an injury occurs. According to the company's Web site, "With this approach, unnecessary treatments, claims, and costs are avoided, while required treatments are obtained right away." Safety statistics provided by RIAC indicate the project had only one lost time claim due to injury during the first year of construction.

In another innovation, the parking garage incorporates elevated fueling, washing, and vacuum facilities. RIAC had to obtain special permission from the State fire marshal for the fueling platforms and was required to add multiple safety features. When the facility opens in fall 2010, it will be the first elevated vehicle fueling facility in the country.

A precast concrete plant in Connecticut prefabricated the garage in roughly 3,500 pieces and then shipped them to the project site, where they were assembled over active rail lines. This approach provided considerable benefits in schedule and product quality.

The skywalk shown here sheathed in orange netting extends over U.S. Route 1 (Post Road), a local access to the airport.
The skywalk shown here sheathed in orange netting extends over U.S. Route 1 (Post Road), a local access to the airport.

A Gateway to Lessons Learned

Achieving multimodal connections was no small task for Rhode Island. A key obstacle is continuing operation of the airport during construction. Lanes cannot be closed as in highway construction. To help reduce impacts on air travelers, RIAC and the project management company reach out to the local community, speaking with residents and business owners, and updating them on the project's progress. In addition, monthly construction updates are emailed to local hoteliers, rental car operators, public transit operators, news media, elected officials, and airport tenants. The emails help ease concerns over parking lot changes, roadway closures, and nighttime work, and have generated a stream of positive press coverage on the project's progress.

Another obstacle is the number of modal, operating, and administrative entities involved in the project. With so many partners and jurisdictions, the project involves major differences among the agencies in procurement, funding, and institutional systems, including how to conduct the work (as in DBE requirements). The project's partners recommend getting together early at the Federal, State, and local levels to iron out differences. They insist that a dedicated team environment and structure are vital to make intermodal projects run smoother, faster, and more economically.

This aerial view shows the parking garage under construction on the east side of Jefferson Boulevard, west of the Amtrak tracks.
This aerial view shows the parking garage under construction on the east side of Jefferson Boulevard, west of the Amtrak tracks.

For elected officials, the challenge is how to fund intermodal projects more efficiently, given the potential involvement of numerous entities with varying funding sources. For multijurisdictional projects, rather than collecting funds piecemeal, a mechanism is needed to line up the sources of funding and coordinate the process. The interdependency of transportation systems must be considered when identifying and considering funding and project priorities.

Looking to the Future

Intermodal transportation connectivity is imperative for economic development, commerce, and livable communities. Opportunities exist for Federal and State leaders, as well as private sector partners, to collaborate on intermodal solutions from the regional, corridor, and national perspectives.

Construction crews are placing concrete forms (foreground) for skywalk piers along the road leading to the new customer service building. Recently completed piers are visible leading up to the terminal in the background.
Construction crews are placing concrete forms (foreground) for skywalk piers along the road leading to the new customer service building. Recently completed piers are visible leading up to the terminal in the background.

In 2009, for example, the six States of the New England region collectively developed a document, Vision for the New England High-Speed and Intercity Rail Network, pledging to promote rail.

Sampling of Intermodal Projects

As reported in a 2009 article in USA Today, airport-to-rail links "have long been popular in Europe and Asia. But only eight of the 20 largest [emphasis added] U.S. airports . . . have rail service that drops passengers off within walking distance of the terminals: Atlanta, Chicago O'Hare, New York John F. Kennedy, San Francisco, Newark, Minneapolis, Boston, and Philadelphia."

Other airports, not among the top 20, also have connections to their downtowns. Portland, OR, is one example of a rail airport-to-downtown connector that is already up and running. So is Reagan National Airport near Washington, DC, where a heavily used regional metro system links to the airport. Cleveland and St. Louis also have airport-to-rail connections.

Others are under construction, and some are in the planning stages, including Seattle/Tacoma, WA; Dallas/Forth Worth, TX; Miami, FL; Washington Dulles, VA; and Los Angeles, CA.

Among these, the new Miami Intermodal Center is similar to the Rhode Island project in that it will feature safe and efficient transfers for users of rail systems, buses, taxis, rental cars, privately owned automobiles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Miami's airport-to-rail connector is expected to be completed in 2012 (See "From Highways to Skyways to Seaways — the Intermodal Challenge," Public Roads, July/August 2004.)

This collaborative approach is embodied by the I-95 Coalition as well. Dubbed "the granddaddy of the multistate transportation organizations" by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the coalition represents States from Maine to Florida. In a recent report, A 2040 Vision for the I- 95 Coalition Region, the coalition departs from its historic role of focusing on short-term operational improvements to recognition of the importance of intermodal operations: "Today...it is increasingly recognized that there are a range of issues at a larger scale, the most obvious being the movement of people and freight within the north-south transportation corridor along the east coast, involving common concerns ranging from real-time operations to improved modal integration [emphasis added] and the long-term viability of the system in light of energy and climate concerns."

Installation of paneling and sheathing is shown at the building that will house rental car counters and offices.
Installation of paneling and sheathing is shown at the building that will house rental car counters and offices.

And nationally, a December 2008 agreement between the I-95 Coalition and U.S. Department of Transportation further strengthened the partnership by committing to "a seamless integrated intermodal passenger and freight network to link the major metropolitan regions."

At an August 13, 2009, press conference to update the public on the Intermodal Facility's progress, Governor Carcieri said, "With the completion of the intermodal project, T.F. Green will stand out as one of the Nation's finest transportation hubs and will offer one of the most efficient infrastructure corridors in the Northeast, with central and easy access to air, rail, and auto travel."

This view shows the skywalk with the glass exterior in progress.
This view shows the skywalk with the glass exterior in progress.

Corey Bobba, P.E., PMP, is the senior operations engineer and leads the program delivery team at FHWA's Rhode Island Division Office. Bobba has served in FHWA as a program analyst and geotechnical and pavement engineer. He holds bachelor and master of science degrees in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Rhode Island.

Ann L. Clarke is senior vice president of planning, environment, and engineering at RIAC and project manager for the Intermodal Facility. Clarke has more than 30 years of experience in environmental and land use planning, and oversight of engineering design and construction management. She has a degree in urban planning from The State University of New York.

Stephen Devine is chief of intermodal planning at RIDOT, which includes overseeing the Intermodal Facility project. Devine's planning positions at RIDOT include a particular emphasis on rail transit planning and design. He holds a B.A. in urban studies from the University of Rhode Island.

Norah Davis is the editor of Public Roads.

For more information, contact Corey Bobba at 401-528-4577 or corey.bobba@dot.gov; Ann Clarke at 401-691-2419 or aclarke@pvdairport.com; or Stephen Devine at 401-222-4203, ext. 4063, or sdevine@dot.ri.gov.


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