Driving Into Providence, Rhode Island

Published: July 10, 2023

Driving into Providence, Rhode Island is one of the worst metro areas in New England, this includes Boston, Massachusetts. With construction throughout all of the Providence Metro Region along with poorly designed highways and very aggressive drivers. Operating a motor vehicle in this area has you white-knuckling your steering wheel the entire time.

Let’s lay out the scene for the major Rhode Island highways and the issues that they have.

Interstate 95

Interstate 95 is the main artery for the City of Providence, let alone the State of Rhode Island. Interstate 95 Starts at the Canadian border in Houlton, Maine and travels down the East Coast of the United States, through Rhode Island and terminates in Miami, Florida.

Interstate 95 was a nightmare from the beginning in Rhode Island. This highway was poorly designed with a 90° curve, locally known at the “Thurbers Ave Curve”, into Providence and the “S-curve” located in the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island and onto the Massachusetts state line. The highway was not designed to handle the amount of traffic that travels daily on it. There are also too many on and off ramps that are located so closely to each other that it makes it very difficult to safely enter and/or exit the highway safely.

The most dangerous part of Interstate 95 in Rhode Island is in the center of the City of Providence. Within a 1.5 mile stretch of the highways there are four major junctions with other major highways (RI 10, RI 146, I-195, US 6) that creates a bottleneck of traffic, along with the major reconstruction of the Providence Viaduct. The bridge in Providence where all of these routes come together.

Interstate 195

Interstate 195 is a spur route that starts in Providence, Rhode Island and terminates at Interstate 495 in Wareham, Massachusetts.

This highway was originally a surface street named Fox Point Blvd, later changed to Cohan Blvd. This road traveled over the Washington Bridge when newly opened in 1930. The section of this road was turned into a highway around 1958 and additional sections were turned into highway with limited access ramps with a completion in 1960.

 In 1957, the number Interstate 95E (I-95E) was assigned, as all intercity routes were numbered before the auxiliary Interstate numbering was chosen, and the Providence–New Bedford, Massachusetts, route was too long to be considered intracity. The I-195 designation was assigned in 1959 with the final numbering. The final section of highway east to I-495 was completed around 1976.

Improvements have been made over the past 10+ years with the major I-Way reconstruction project moving the junction with I-95 roughly a mile north and removing the left-hand side ramps on I-95 to the safer right-hand side with flyover bridges.

Interstate 295

Interstate 295 is also known as the Providence Beltway as it makes a loop around the Providence Metro area. Starting at Interstate 95 in Warwick, Rhode Island. It makes a loop around the Metro Area, connecting with RI 37 in Cranston, Rhode Island, US 6 in Johnston, Rhode Island, RI 146 in Lincoln, Rhode Island and RI 114 in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

Interstate 295 is a generally safe highway in this system, although it was not designed for the amount of traffic that currently uses the highway. The major areas that can be dangerous is on I-295 Southbound in Johnston. This is where the junction of US 6 and I-295 is located. I-295 North of this point is a six lane highway with a speed limit of 65mph, but going South, the highway goes from six lanes with a two lane access road (to US 6), abruptly to a four lane highway. Merging the five lanes going South into two lanes can be quite a challenge to navigate and there are many accidents in this area of the highway.

State Route 10

RI 10 is a state run highway that loops around the downtown section of the City of Providence. Starting in Cranston, Rhode Island, it merges with US 6 and terminates in the center of Providence at Interstate 95.

This is an outright dangerous highway. a small, four lane highway where the speed limit is 50mph (good luck finding someone that follows it) was not designed for the speed or amount of traffic that drives on this road daily.

State Route 37

This is a spur route that connects Interstate 95 and Interstate 295 in Cranston, Rhode Island. RI 37 actually starts at Post Rd (US 1) in Warwick, Rhode Island and ends at Phoenix Avenue (RI 51) in Cranston, Rhode Island and is one of the main routes to take traveler to Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport (PVD) in Warwick, Rhode Island (Not Providence).

This is one of the highways in Rhode Island that was never completed. Originally called the Lincoln Ave Expressway, Route 37 was originally supposed to cross Narragansett Bay and go through Barrington, Rhode Island and terminate at Interstate 195 in Fall River, Massachusetts. By adding this bridge it would lessen traffic going over the Washington Bridge in Providence and also create another route for those traveling to Cape Cod without having to go through Providence. The bridge and highway was rejected by the residents of Barrington and the plan has been scrapped. However there have been plans to continue the highway from US 1 in Warwick another 1/2 mile and terminate at Airport Road and PVD.

The major design flaws on this highway is at I-295 where the current ramps are not designed to handle the current traffic. This often causes backups and accidents. There currently is construction on this highway to address this issue, but this has caused more confusion and has made the entire stretch of the highway more dangerous.

State Route 146

Also known as Old Louisquisset Pike, RI 146 is a spur route that starts in Providence, Rhode Island at Interstate 95. This route travels Northwest and terminates at Interstate 90 (Mass Pike), just South of the City of Worcester, Massachusetts.

This is another highway in Rhode Island that was not designed for the amount of traffic and the speeds of the vehicles that travel on it daily. The lanes are narrow and the on and off ramps do not allow drivers the ability to gain speed to access the highway and most exits are in confined areas which require very sharp turns. Some ramps have exit speeds as low as 15mph.

RI 146 was originally a two lane road between Providence, Rhode Island and Worcester, Massachusetts. The road was upgrade to a four lane road and the eventually a divided highway.

The biggest problem with this highway is at its southern terminus at Interstate 95 in Providence, known locally as the 146 Split. Again, with the amount of traffic that travels this road, bottlenecks occur during both morning and afternoon rush hours daily.

U.S. 6

US 6 is a Federal, transcontinental highway that starts in Provincetown, Massachusetts and travels East/West across the United States terminating in Bishop, California.

US 6 is a fairly safe highway from Johnston, Rhode Island (Junction with I-295) and the City of Providence. The road becomes dangerous in the area that is known as the 6/10 Connector. This section of highway is about 2 miles long between the junction of US 6 and RI 10 and where the highway ends at Interstate 95 in Providence. Multiple onramps, junctions and lane merges combined with very confusing signs and a mind-blowing half cloverleaf to get you on either 95 North, South or RI 146 North can cause much confusion leading to accidents and major backups every day. The section of the highway known as the 6/10 Connector is undergoing construction to alleviate some of the merging and confusing design of this junction.

As you can see from the descriptions above, driving in Providence can be very confusing. Although the State of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) are currently addressing the issues, they are about 30 years late. Most of the changes that they are currently making will mostly be obsolete within the next 10-15 years meaning that the 100’s of millions of dollars that are being spent on the upgrades today will have been waisted.