RhodeWorks: Rebuild Infrastructure While Stimulating Economic Growth

Rhode Island is taking a multiple strategy approach to rebuilding its aging highway infrastructure while stimulating the job market and growing the economy.

📅   Wed May 04, 2016 - Northeast Edition
Chuck Harvey - CEG CORRESPONDENT


Rhode Island is taking a multiple strategy approach to rebuilding its aging highway infrastructure while stimulating the job market and growing the economy.
Rhode Island is taking a multiple strategy approach to rebuilding its aging highway infrastructure while stimulating the job market and growing the economy.
Rhode Island is taking a multiple strategy approach to rebuilding its aging highway infrastructure while stimulating the job market and growing the economy.
The cost of improving highways and bridges is set at $510 million. The plan is to repair more than 150 structurally deficient bridges and upgrade another 500 bridges so they don’t become deficient.

Rhode Island is taking a multiple strategy approach to rebuilding its aging highway infrastructure while stimulating the job market and growing the economy.

The state has created RhodeWorks that would use tolls on large commercial trucks and bond sales to finance major highway and bridge projects. The cost of improving highways and bridges is set at $510 million.

On Feb. 11, Rhode Island passed RhodeWorks legislation setting the plan in motion.

In a release, Peter Alviti Jr., Rhode Island Department of Transportation director, thanked Gov. Gina Raimondo and the state's General Assembly for passing the RhodeWorks legislation.

“We have been saying throughout the debate on the RhodeWorks initiative that we would be ready to hit the ground once it passes,” Alviti said.

RoadWorks includes a $500 million bridge bond that would be paid by charging $3 per truck at 14 toll locations.

Rhode Island also will sell $300 million in GARVEE bonds to help pay for existing debt and new highway construction projects.

Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, or GARVEE, is a type of bond or similar financing method issued by a state or state infrastructure bank under the guidelines of the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995. Bond money would be used to leverage federal aid and repair bridges.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation also will utilize the national FAST Act to raise additional construction revenue. That includes $258 million in federal revenue over 10 years.

On Dec. 4, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). It is the first law enacted in more than 10 years that provides long-term funding certainty for surface transportation projects such as new highways and transit lines.

Besides providing new revenue sources for transportation projects, the FAST Act reduces interest on the bond repayment.

RhodeWorks also anticipates an additional $400 million in federal funding through the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program for developing a transit component in the U.S. 6 and R.I. 10 interchange reconstruction project.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation officials cite a special need to accelerate infrastructure projects. The state ranks last in the nation in overall bridge condition. Approximately 22 percent of the 1,162 bridges in Rhode Island are structurally deficient.

Prior to setting tolls, Rhode Island was one of the few northeastern states that did not charge user fees to large commercial trucks. State transportation officials point out that nearly all vehicle-created road damage is caused by large commercial trucks.

Officials insist that to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges, a user fee on large commercial trucks is necessary. They also see a great opportunity in taking advantage of the FAST Act.

The plan is to repair more than 150 structurally deficient bridges and upgrade another 500 bridges so they don't become deficient.

And time is of the essence. By waiting state officials believe the cost will rise much higher. Public safety is also at risk, further necessitating quick action.

Request for Proposals Issued

As soon as RhodeWorks was signed into law, a request for proposals was issued that called for a toll facility consultant, investment grade traffic and revenue consultant, a National Environmental Policy Act consultant to oversee reconstruction of the U.S. 6 and R.I. 10 interchange, and a U.S. 6 and R.I. 10 interchange reconstruction engineering consultant.

In addition, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation has begun soliciting for proposals for task order contracts. The department has adopted a new policy that saves time in procuring engineering services.

Under the previous process, the department of transportation solicited for engineering services as each project moved through the development pipeline. Under the new approach, most of the work and time involved in procuring engineering services is done up front.

In the first step, the department of transportation will request proposals from engineering firms creating a pool of companies that will be able to compete for future road and bridge work.

The first step is under way now and will conclude in early spring.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation will hire design firms in categories such as bridges, highways, storm-water improvements and facilities designs. It will further increase completion in the process by renewing the first step of consultant selection every two years.

Positive Impact Beyond Safety

RhodeWorks will add thousands of jobs and boost the state's economy.

The boost in revenue will allow crews to bring bridges up to 90 percent sufficiency within 10 years.