Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has received Scenic America’s Stafford Award for his leadership in establishing a highway beautification program aimed at improving the visual appearance of the state’s roadways. The award was presented during a recent reception in Newport hosted by the group’s chairman, Ronald Lee Fleming. An award for excellence in transportation leadership was given to Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RI DOT) Director Michael P. Lewis for his skill in implementing the program.
Begun in 2012, the beautification program seeks to strengthen tourism and promote economic development while also improving the aesthetic character of key gateway areas to the state. One unique aspect of the program involves commissioning local artists to design murals depicting scenes of historic, aesthetic or cultural significance to Rhode Island. The images are then installed by professional muralists on abutments and retaining walls along some of the state’s busiest roadways.”We applaud Governor Chafee for his visionary leadership and Director Lewis for guiding this exciting initiative,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America. “Communities all over the country are recognizing the value of attractive gateways, and Rhode Island is leading the way in creating beautiful scenes for all to enjoy.”
The first mural went up last year on the Wampanoag Overpass Bridge, visible on I-195 West in East Providence, and depicts sailboats in a Narragansett Bay waterscape. The image was designed by renowned local artist Anthony Russo and was selected by the Governor. In addition to improving the visual appearance of the state’s roadways, the murals are intended to help discourage vandalism and graffiti.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic candidate for president, was a guest of honor at the event. Also present were Newport Mayor Henry F. Winthrop, Christopher T. Semonelli, President of the Middletown Town Council, and Jonathan Stevens, Gov. Chafee’s Director of Special Projects. Both Gov. Chafee and RI DOT Director Lewis gave much of the credit for the project’s success to Mr. Stevens.
Also in attendance were representatives from a dozen Scenic affiliates around the country, including Massachusetts, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Florida and Georgia.
The Stafford Award is named for former U.S. Senator Robert Stafford of Vermont, for his concern for the environment and efforts to strengthen federal highway beautification laws. In 1993 Scenic America presented the award to the Governor’s father, Senator John Chaffee, for his longtime support of scenic byways and context-sensitive road design. Other previous recipients include Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Governor Pete Wilson of California and U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena.