“Think Big, We Do” is the motto of the current administration of the University of Rhode Island. Banners with that motto hang from lamp post all over the campus. Until this week, it struck me as pretentious, annoying or, at least, unlikely. Then I drive along Plains Road at the back of the campus.
Plains Road could be a country lane. A couple of driveways intersect the road but otherwise, it passes playing and agricultural fields before it turns into a number of parking lots. The speed limit is marked as 25 miles per hour. But no one drives even close to that so when they encounter a right angle turn at the Agronomy field station driveway, they need to slow down. Not every one does.
Even before the University went public with its Think Big campaign, a senior administrator was practicing. He proposed rerouting Plains Road across an agricultural field to slightly straighten it. Fewer drivers would meet disastrous consequences at that bend. Two stop signs, one in each direction, if that solution was considered, must have been ridiculed as thinking small. The big think plan would degrade the site of a very accurate weather station, require a hoop house for faculty science experiments to relocate and replace some of finest soil in Rhode Island with asphalt, but those are trifles where you’re thinking big.
Big, really big, piles of sand and gravel line the new route. They were taken in exchange for 25,000 cubic yards of some of the finest top soil in New England. At $20 a yard, that’s $500,000 worth of soil. Suddenly the Think Big banners had a referent. This is a huge project — at least in terms of earth moving. I walked the new piece of road. It still has a big bend in it and it goes to the same spot that Plains Road took you.
A friend who works in the Agronomy Field Station suggested another motto might be more apt for the University: “Think, Please; We Don’t.”
The futility of this URI road project echoed another project I’d driven past last week on Atlantic Avenue in Misquamicut Beach of Westerly. Recovery efforts following Sandy are in full swing with only a short time until the two precious months of summer. I don’t have photos because I was test driving a Prius and it didn’t seem right to stop. But the picture would look almost identical to Plains Road: big, very big piles of sand have been removed from the road and parking areas where Sandy put them. Now they stand, apparently without support, at what must be some distance above the high tide line. A newspaper article estimates the cost of the beach recovery to be about $20 million.