Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation proposes to slash funding for bicycle projects, despite 78.9% approval for the recent Green Economy Bond.
The major amendment to the State Transportation Improvement Plan was presented to the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee on January 24. RIDOT is proposing to reduce the Transportation Alternatives program by $27 million over the next decade, which funds bicycle, pedestrian, and road safety projects.
While RIDOT asserts that shortfalls from the General Assembly’s Capital Budget, delays in constructing toll infrastructure, and deteriorating bridges are the cause of the amendment, very little of the proposed change will fund bridge work. Instead, one new $28.8 million highway project in western Cranston is one of the biggest proposed changes, along with large allocations to build toll gantries ($61.6 million) and “Headquarters Operations” which includes more than doubling the “Legal” line item to $24.9 million.
Municipal officials and project advocates were not consulted before the proposal to cancel or delay projects was announced. RIDOT seems to have made arbitrary and unilateral decisions about the suitability of projects which had been carefully developed over years or even decades.
Projects proposed to be eliminated or delayed include the William C. O’Neill (South County) Bike Path extension in South Kingstown, the Woonasquatucket Greenway extension, City Walk and critical on-road connections in Providence, the Ten Mile River Greenway extension in East Providence, the Melville Connector in Portsmouth, the Trestle Trail in Coventry to connect to paths in Connecticut, the Blackstone Bikeway in Woonsocket, the Warren Bike Path, and the East Main Road Shared Use Path in Middletown.
Many local advocacy groups are frustrated. “The State promised that the South County Bike Path would begin this final section in 2017.” said David Smith of the Friends of the William C. O’Neill South County Bike Path. “RIDOT dragged its feet, even as the Town of Narragansett voted three times in support of the extension. In 2018, RIDOT still did nothing, and now proposes arbitrarily changing the route, slashing the funding, and delaying the project further. South County might have to wait until 2025 for the path to get to its destination at Narragansett Town Beach.”
“We’ve been planning the Blackstone Bikeway for five decades” said Bob Billington of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. “I am disappointed by the delays and very concerned about the elimination of the Ten Mile River Greenway extension. We’ve fought hard for this money and connecting our great recreational resources. It’s frustrating to be going backwards.”
Of course, disappointment is just one impact of the proposed changes. Towns and cities counting on the long-promised projects will face economic development impacts, as well.
Taking funding away from biking and walking projects risks the safety, health, and well-being of every resident and goes against the will of voters who overwhelmingly supported expanding funding for bicycle infrastructure in Rhode Island. We object, in the strongest possible terms, to the amendment proposed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. Funds in the Transportation Alternatives Program should not be raided for highway infrastructure projects or other priorities.
Two public hearings on the proposed amendment are scheduled for February 25 at 5:30 PM at Narragansett Town Hall, 25 Fifth Ave. in Narragansett and February 28 at 4PM at the Department of Administration, One Capitol Hill in Providence.
Written statements can be filed with the Transportation Advisory Committee by mailing them to Michael D’Alessandro, Department of Administration, Division of Statewide Planning, One Capitol Hill, Providence, RI 02908, or e-mail to Michael.DAlessandro@doa.ri.gov. All comments on the amendment must be received prior to or during the February 28 public hearing.
Press inquiries on this topic should go to Sarah Mitchell, Board Chair at Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition, at email@example.com or 401-297-2153.