Rhode Island’s Gov. Forms New Panel With Transportation Funding in Mind

Thu June 26, 2008 - Northeast Edition
James A. Merolla



When is black and blue a good thing? When one is designed to keep a state in the other.

In recognition of an increasingly serious reduction in highway funding and an aging transportation infrastructure in critical need of repair or replacement, Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri has announced the formation of a Blue Ribbon Panel designed to tackle transportation funding over the next four to five years and keep ongoing projects in the black.

The 12-member group of stakeholders will assess the state’s transportation needs and identify potential funding sources.

“Developing and maintaining a 21st century transportation system is crucial to our ongoing efforts to fuel our economy and enhance our quality of life,” Gov. Carcieri said in his announcement. “Unfortunately, Rhode Island’s roads and bridges are aging and deteriorating. In fact, the majority of our most heavily traveled roads and bridges were built between the 1950s and the 1970s. That means that we are facing a period where we must undergo major highway and bridge repair in Rhode Island. We have concerns about future reductions in federal highway spending.

“As is the case in states throughout our nation, Rhode Island’s transportation needs far outweigh available resources,” Carcieri continued. “With a projected deficit of the federal highway trust fund in 2009, there is a national concern that the federal government will reduce transportation funding to all states. We could see a 30 to 40 percent decrease in federal transportation funding. If that happens, Rhode Island could stand to lose $60 to 70 million in transportation funding each year.”

Although the state is looking at many bridges through 2013, it is worried about two in particular — The Sakonnet Bridge between Tiverton and Portsmouth, and the I-95 Bridge over the Pawtucket River in Pawtucket, the first posted at a 22-ton crossing limit, the latter limit reduced on May 7 to an 18-ton truck limit. Both are RIDOT’s top concerns, according to spokesperson Fran Segerson.

“The Pawtucket River Bridge is safe,” said RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis. “However, in an abundance of caution and to further preserve its deteriorating condition until the bridge is replaced, we are lowering the posting of this bridge.”

The latest inspection showed that the bridge continues to deteriorate, which has led to this new posting. The Pawtucket River Bridge was built for 60,000 cars per day. Today volumes are nearly three times that amount at 162,000 vehicles per day. It was built in 1958 as part of the original Interstate system and carries traffic over Taft Street and the Pawtucket River.

Several additional bridges of concern are actually part of the current I-195 project through Providence, and these bridges are being replaced as parts of the new Iway are opened later this year and into next year. Those old bridges will be demolished in 2011 and 2012, according to RIDOT.

“Additionally, the Department of Transportation has reexamined the condition of our bridges and prioritized projects for the next five years,” Carcieri added. “During this time frame, we’ll have approximately $600 million in bridge repair and replacement projects. Unfortunately, our current revenue streams will not provide the funds we need. Unless we take measures now, many of the highway projects that we’ve committed to will be delayed. That’s why it is imperative that we address this pressing issue by reviewing transportation priorities, identifying funding strategies and creating a balanced approach for investing in our infrastructure.”

The Panel

The Blue Ribbon Panel for Transportation Funding established by Carcieri will be headed up by Jerry Williams, outgoing former director of RIDOT who now heads the state’s Department of Administration.

“Jerry will remain and work with new DOT director Mike Lewis on this panel,” said Carcieri. “It will be charged with evaluating our transportation needs and providing options to address transportation funding for Rhode Island. This broad group of stakeholders will also review current available federal and state transportation funding and propose new funding mechanisms.”

The panel’s task will be investigating the state’s aging transportation infrastructure, the significant number of priority one projects that are needed to maintain the infrastructure and the available funding/shortfall of funding to accommodate Rhode Island’s needs.

The group also will explore the extent of federal funding and the prognosis of future funding given the current condition of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Finally, the panel will assess options for future funding at the state level to either make up some of the decreased federal funding or provide a larger match if federal funding is increased.

“The intent is to have the panel work together for six months,” said Williams. “RIDOT staff will support the group and will continue to reach out to both Federal Highway and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials for the latest information associated with this important financing issue.”

Closed a Bridge

Just Before Collapse

In light of the August 2007 bridge tragedy in Minneapolis, RIDOT has been reviewing the conditions of bridges in the state. If a bridge is unsafe, RIDOT has not hesitated to close it immediately, as the state did with the Peace Dale Stone Arch Bridge in South Kingstown just one day before the tragic collapse in Minnesota. The Stone Arch Bridge was reopened on Oct. 7, and the completed repairs allowed the removal of all weight restrictions.

RIDOT staff is involved in designing, constructing, inspecting and maintaining state bridge inventory, and is committed to ensuring these structures remain safe, according to officials.

Bridges are considered structurally deficient if there are elements of the bridge that need to be monitored and/or repaired. It means the bridge must be monitored, inspected and maintained, repaired or replaced at an appropriate time to maintain its structural integrity.

However, Heidi Cote of RIDOT also pointed out that the state and the Blue Ribbon Panel are looking beyond bridges to all transportation projects, including highways and roads, as well as bus, train and airport facilities.

The mission of the panel will be:

• to fully understand the needs of transportation financing in Rhode Island;

• to analyze and assess funding options, and

• to recommend funding mechanisms and inform the public of the plan.

RIDOT Plans

2008 Iway Milestones

The crown jewel of Rhode Island projects this year and next is the so-called Iway project — putting a new Route 195 across Providence at an estimated $610 million price tag.

As it progresses, RIDOT is planning several important milestones with subsequent changes to traffic patterns to occur this year. These milestones and changes include:

• The new ramp from I-195 Eastbound to India Street will open in late-May/June. This will serve only traffic from I-95 Northbound to I-195 Eastbound headed to Gano Street and India Street. The temporary Gano Street off-ramp will close.

• The Friendship Street on-ramp to I-195 Eastbound will close in June/July for demolition. A new temporary on-ramp will be in service for approximately six months and will serve the west side of Providence, part of the hospital area and part of the Jewelry District.

• The Pine Street Bridge will close for demolition in June/July. Traffic will be detoured to Broad Street.

• The existing ramp from I-95 Northbound to I-195 Eastbound (Exit 20 — the old highway) will close over the course of the summer.

• The on-ramp to I-95 Southbound from the Southbound Service Road at Broad Street will be closed at the end of the year while concurrently the new Ramp SE will open. Traffic will be detoured to a variety of routes.

• The new ramp from I-95 Southbound to I-195 Eastbound (called Ramp SE) will open at the end of this year. This will take all traffic from I-95 Southbound to I-195 Eastbound and place it on the new section of highway. CEG