The cuts to “transportation alternatives,” as non-automobile infrastructure is called, are part of a series of proposed amendments to the state’s $4.7-billion, 10-year transportation plan, which was scheduled for approval by the State Planning Council Thursday morning.
“Rhode Island should be doing more to enhance our pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure for the sake of our economy, environment, public health and public safety,” the Senate letter, co-authored by Finance Committee Chairman William Conley and Sen. Dawn Euer, said. ”... Rhode Island road and bridge projects have received an infusion of an additional $358 million since February 2019 and there should be no need to access funds intended for transportation alternatives.”
Scaling back or delaying projects “is unnecessary and short-sighted if we truly want to have a robust and modern transportation system,” the letter said.
All 33 Senate Democrats, including President Dominick Ruggerio, co-signed the letter. Twenty of 75 representatives, most from the chamber’s progressive wing, signed a similar House letter.
“If the proposed bike and pedestrian cuts were restored, we believe that nearly 97% of the [10-year transportation plan] would still be allocated to road and bridge repair,” the House letter said.
This is the second time this year that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation has proposed shifting some of the money allocated for bicycle, pedestrian and road-paving projects to highway bridge repair. (Some $61 million for repaving would be diverted over 10 years, according to the DOT.)
State officials withdrew the previous amendment to the 10-year plan after opposition greeted the bicycle and pedestrian cuts, but even with additional federal funding and borrowing to boost large bridge projects, the cuts returned in a second set of amendments.
The bicycle and pedestrian projects that are proposed for being postponed or scaled back include the William C. O’Neill Bike Path, in Narragansett; the Ten Mile River Greenway, in Pawtucket; Cathedral Square walkways, in Providence; in Waterplace Park, in Providence; the Misquamicut Bike Loop, in Westerly; the Trestle Train, in Coventry; the North End bike paths, in Newport; and the Blackstone River Bikeway, in Woonsocket and Pawtucket.
DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin responded to the lawmakers’ letters saying the 10-year plan has received support from “numerous state and municipal leaders.”
“RIDOT will be providing $200 million for bike and pedestrian pathways over the next ten years ($20 million per year) — a significant increase on current funding levels (the previous TIP funded these structures at about $8 million per year),” St. Martin wrote in an email. “This funding is ... folded into new capital projects, such as the 6/10 interchange and the Henderson Bridge. RIDOT is making historic investments in Rhode Island’s infrastructure.”
One point of disagreement is over DOT seeking to use money from the $47-million “green economy” bond that voters approved last year for projects that would otherwise be paid for with transportation dollars.
Euer said she first became concerned about funding for bicycle and pedestrian paths in Newport’s North End being folded into the larger realignment of the Pell Bridge automobile ramps.
“While the Pell Bridge drew my attention, what folks need to remember is when anyone is commuting by bike — and they will only do so when they feel comfortable and safe — the reality is it is one less car on the road,” Euer said.
Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, said she has been advocating for money to complete the South County bike path for more than a decade.
“If we lose this now, they will just pull the rug out from under us again and force people to ride on the streets, which is dangerous,” she told The Journal Wednesday.