A Tale of Two Towns and a River that Floods

A Tale of Two Towns and a River that Floods

MARCH 16, 2020

After years of the Runnins River running over its banks during extreme weather events and flooding a residential neighborhood in East Providence, Rhode Island, city officials hired the design-build team of J.H. Lynch and Sons and Woodard & Curran to design and construct high relief culverts at the Warren Avenue Bridge. 

Abutter objection leads to a resourceful re-design

Initially, the project was funded in part by a Community Development Block Grant. A property and business owner adjacent to the project site opposed the work, which pushed the location over to the Massachusetts side of the river. With the grant only applicable for projects in Rhode Island, Woodard & Curran sought alternative funding options. The project team applied for and secured a $544,000 grant on behalf of East Providence through the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Narragansett Bay and Watershed Restoration Bond Fund in 2017. The Runnins River design-build project was one of 33 projects awarded a total of $6.8 million in matching grants to mitigate stormwater pollution, reduce flooding, and strengthen the state’s climate resilience. 

After being awarded the new grant, Woodard & Curran redesigned the project and undertook a new assemblage of permit applications.  to obtain proper easements and approvals from the Rhode Island and Massachusetts Departments of Transportation, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers and Seekonk Conservation Commission. 

Construction work finally began in the summer of 2019, four and a half years after the project was initially awarded to Woodard & Curran. 

After much planning, quick construction achieves flood mitigation goals

Final approvals to start construction came in the fall of 2018, too late for work to be performed during low flow periods. In July 2019, a portion of the heavily traveled Warren Avenue near Country Street closed for construction and the project team had 30 days to complete the job. 

The precast 3-foot-tall by 7-foot-wide runs of culvert were ready well in advance so when the site was prepared, they could be quickly laid in place. Installation of the culverts only took a few days, compared to the extensive time it would have taken to build culverts in place. Not only did this help the project team complete the work within the 30-day construction window, it also avoided delays in the event a heavy rainstorm occurred during construction. 

The flood mitigation work has benefited some 30 homeowners in East Providence’s State Street neighborhood. The additional culverts increase flow capacity and lower the water surface elevation upstream. In fact, 25 homes were removed from the 100-year floodplain as a result of this work and the historical stream channel of a tributary was restored. 

In addition to the supplemental culverts, measures to improve stormwater quality were implemented as part of the grant conditions. This included the installation of prefabricated water quality devices to reduce suspended solids and phosphorous. Bird spikes were added on the I-195 overpass to discourage pigeons from roosting and defecating in the runoff. The city also coordinated with private property owners to reduce or treat runoff from large areas of impervious surface. 

This project was featured in the Winter 2020 issue of Precast Solutions, a publication of the National Precast Concrete Association. The complete article can be found online by clicking here.



Senior Project Manager
Government & Institutional

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Jason Witham, Executive Director Facilities Mgmt., Johnson & Wales University