What Did the RI General Assembly do about Transportation this Summer?
The answer to the title question is, not much.
Widely known, the State House of Representatives did not act on the proposal to toll large trucks even though the Governor, her new RIDOT Director and their labor allies made impassioned pleas that we need that additional revenue for rebuilding our roads and bridges, amongst the nation’s worst and maybe even posing a safety hazard, and likely to get more expensive to repair if action is delayed. For the bike community that not only uses the roads and bridges, reality is that additional bike programs are far less likely to get funded unless RIDOT gets some additional revenue, so RIBike gave some support to the toll concept.
However, the proposal came late in the session and issues raised by the trucking industry helped convince the House leadership to put off any action, perhaps until a fall session. Stay tuned for further opportunities to help with this.
The Assembly did authorize repaying some of RIDOT’s and RIPTA’s capital bond debt service from general funds, thus freeing some of their gas tax money for operations. Though the budget also added another $2 million for RIPTA, they still face about a $3 million deficit in this fiscal year. Since the Assembly repealed a law mandating “free” rides to low income elderly and disabled (now about 28% of RIPTA’s ridership) it is possible that those groups may see a fare imposed. But since those groups are organized to protest, bus service cuts are still another possibility to address this deficit.
No significant highway safety bills passed. Our “vulnerable road user” bills were held in Committee but we do thank our sponsors, Representative Lauren Carson and Senator Sue Sosnowski. Though a bill to combat distracted driving by phasing in a ban on using hand-held phones while driving passed the Senate, but the House never took it up. Similarly a Senate bill to enhance hit-and-run penalties also died in the House. Bills the AG sponsored to combat drunk driving and increase penalties when a motorist driving criminally kills or injures someone all failed. We are a member of a Traffic Safety Coalition that may try again on such items in the next session. I’ll note a vulnerable road user bill passed in Maine, a hand-held cell phone ban passed in New Hampshire, and both had already passed in Connecticut. Perhaps we will hear more about our region’s bike related legislation at thr New England Bike-Walk summit in September.
Barry Schiller, Legislative Chair
RI Bicycle Coalition