Rhode Island’s highway network.
Providence has a fairly dense road network, with the highway network mainly concentrated in the Providence region. Several bridges span the straits of Narragansett Bay, connecting the islands and peninsulas.
The state highway authority is the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, abbreviated RIDOT. The state manages 1,773 kilometers of road and 1,162 bridges. RIDOT has its origins in the State Board of Public Roads established in 1902, which was incorporated in 1935 as part of the Department of Public Works. In 1970, the current Rhode Island Department of Transportation was established.
Rhode Island is nationally known for the poor condition of its road network. In 2014, 22% of bridges were ‘structurally deficient’, the highest proportion of any state. Nearly all other bridges need repairs to prevent them from getting structurally deficient as well. The ‘Rhode Works’ program was therefore introduced in 2016 to modernize the state’s bridges.
- Bittranslators: State overview of Rhode Island, including geography, economy, population and history as well as introduction to major cities of Rhode Island.
A small number of Interstate Highways pass through Rhode Island. The most important is Interstate 95, which handles through traffic from New York City to Boston and crosses Providence. Interstate 195 begins in Providence and heads east through southern Massachusetts. Interstate 295 forms a bypass of Providence that is quite suitable for through traffic. Interstate 84 was originally planned to also run through Rhode Island as a connection from Hartford to Providence. However, the highway was never constructed as such.
Rhode Island was one of the few states that still had sequential exit numbers. In November 2017, the implementation of a distance exit numbering system started, starting on Interstate 295. The renumbering was carried out between 2017 and 2020.
- Deluxesurveillance: Nickname of Rhode Island as The Ocean State. Also covers geography, history, economy, politics and administration of the state.
Three US Highways pass through Rhode Island. US 1 is the historic north-south route through the state that I-95 was later built parallel to. In southern Rhode Island, however, I-95 cuts off through the interior while US 1 runs along the coast. The US 1 is here completely designed as a 2×2 divided highway. US 6 is an east-west connection that connects to Interstate 395 in Connecticut and is an alternate route from Providence to New York City, but it is rarely used as such. I-84 should have been constructed here parallel to US 6. US 44 crosses the north of the state from west to east and is a 2×2 divided highway.
Rhode Island has a network of 70 state routes. Most of these are less than 30 miles long, which makes sense given Rhode Island’s small size. The state routes complement the network of US Highways and often have local importance. Special about the state routes are some large bridges, such as the Newport Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge, two suspension bridges over Narragansett Bay.
Some state routes have been developed as freeways;
- State Route 4: Warwick – North Kingstown
- State Route 10: Cranston – Providence
- State Route 24: Portsmouth – Fall River
- State Route 37: I-295 – Providence Airport
- State Route 78: Westerly Bypass
- State Route 99: Woonsocket spur
- State Route 138: North Kingstown – Conanicut Island
- State Route 146: Providence – Woonsocket
- State Route 403: East Greenwich – Quonset
There are no general toll roads in Rhode Island, but there are some bridges that require tolls. These are located along the southeast coast and are administered by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA). These are the Mount Hope Bridge, the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge, the Newport Bridge and the Sakonnet River Bridge.
The state plans to introduce road tolls under the “Rhode Works” program at a number of strategic points on the highway network, most notably in and around Providence and on I-95 in the south of the state.  Legislation prohibits tolls on passenger cars and small trucks.
The Mt Hope Bridge (1929).
Project ‘Iway’ in Providence (Return I-195).
Rhode Island’s road network has its origins in the turnpikes of the 1800s. The first was the West Glocester Turnpike which was established in 1794 and ran west from Providence on what is now US 44. At the beginning of the 19th century, 24 turnpikes were established. Its importance was reduced after the rise of the railways from the middle of the 19th century. The historic Boston Post Road (US 1) also ran through Rhode Island. Later, the New London Turnpike was constructed as a bypass of the coastal detour directly from Providence to New London in Connecticut. This route was shorter than the Boston Post Road. I-95 was later constructed along the New London Turnpike.
In the 1920s, Rhode Island’s road network was mostly radial, Providence ‘s approach roads were paved, but few other connections. Despite this, these were the state’s major roads at the time, so Rhode Island had paved all major roads fairly early at the time. New England Highways, a regional road numbering system in the northeastern United States, was introduced in 1922. Its importance declined as early as 1926 with the introduction of US Highways and later with the conversion of the New England Highways into state routes. In 1929, the landmark Mount Hope Bridge opened between Portsmouth and Bristol in the east of the state.
Right after World War II, planning for highway construction in Rhode Island began. In 1950, construction began on the first highway, Route 10, which was to form a bypass around downtown Providence. The first part of this opened to traffic in 1953. In late 1955, the first section of Interstate 95 opened, not in Providence, but at the Connecticut border. This connected to the Connecticut Turnpike. The rest of the highway was built after the creation of the Interstate Highway system in 1956. In 1968-1969, I-95 through Rhode Island was completed.
In 1969, the Newport Bridge also opened to connect the southern part of Narragansett Bay, adding a connection to Rhode Island traffic from the west. Providence’s bypass, Interstate 295, opened in stages between 1967 and 1975. A little earlier, in 1964, Interstate 195 through Providence and East Providence had been completed.
By June 1975, Rhode Island had opened all Interstate Highways in the state, becoming the first state to operate all Interstate Highways. No new highways have been built in Rhode Island since that time. However, the Route 146 between Providence and Woonsocket was not made grade-separated until the 1980s. The biggest project since the 1970s was ‘Iway’, to move I-195 a little further from downtown. This opened to traffic in 2009.