On November 18, 1902, Rhode Island established the State Board of Public Roads “to oversee the construction, maintenance and improvement of the state’s highways system.”
Prior to its establishment, there was no state-level entity to “supervise and monitor work on public roads within Rhode Island; those duties were instead localized and decidedly scattershot.”
John H. Edwards was named chairman of the newly authorized organization by the governor; there were four other board members also appointed. Concurrently, Robert F. Rodman was appointed chief engineer of the board. To take the position he closed his engineering and land surveying firm.
The Board’s main purpose was to develop a state highway system by making recommendations to the General Assembly for “relocating, re-grading or improving the main highways of the state…” The Board was also to produce maps and plans that showed the proposed locations and grades and proposed improvement, as well as the cost of the work. Once approved by the General Assembly, the Board was authorized to appropriate funds for the work.
Later in 1902, Edwards wrote a paper on good roads that was read at a meeting of the Rhode Island State Grange. “In our own state the need for better public roads has long been recognized by our citizens,” noted Edwards. “The subject has been discussed and argued at our good roads meetings, our rural and village improvement societies, and at the annual town meetings, for many years.”
Edwards further asserted, “The people have patiently borne the burdens and inconveniences of the deplorable condition of their highways, hoping that some time and in some way relief might be secured, but how it is to be obtained has been the difficult problem.”
Chief engineer Rodman earned accolades throughout Rhode Island for his work building and improving the state’s roads network. Under his supervision routes that had been muddy and rutted were converted to ones that were considerably smoother and a lot easier to use. A tribute to Rodman stated, “through heroic endeavors. . . [he] improved the old narrow muddy turnpikes through the valleys of the state’s rural districts, allowing them to become the places and homes of countless citizens.”
In 1912, the Board established a division of bridges, which was responsible for the supervision of those state bridges “lying in any highway or highways which have been done by the state under the supervision of the board…”
Board functions transferred
The Rhode Island government was restructured into a system with departments in 1935. Among the changes was the creation of the Rhode Island Department of Public Works. The Department was organized with a division of roads and bridges, a division of public buildings, a division of state airports, and a division of harbors and rivers. The division of roads and bridges took over the State Board of Public Roads’ responsibilities.
Some 35 years later, the responsibilities of that department were assumed in 1970 by the newly formed Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT).
RIDOT is responsible for the design, construction, maintenance and inspection of a wide range of transportation infrastructure. Among the infrastructure are 3,300 lane miles of state roads and highways, 1,178 bridges, 777 traffic signals, five rail stations and the state’s tolling program.
Rhode Island’s highways and roads
Rhode Island is the smallest state by size in the United States. It has the third-fewest miles of highway in the U.S. – only Hawaii and the District of Columbia have fewer miles.
There are three interstate highways in Rhode Island that in total cover 68.5 miles – I-95, I-195 and I-295.
The total number of road miles in Rhode Island is 12,664. By comparison, the state with the most miles of roadway is Texas, with nearly 684,000 miles.