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2/11/2016 RhodeWorks plan to repair roads and bridges approved by General Assembly, signed into law
STATE HOUSE – With final votes in both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s signature today, RhodeWorks, a sweeping plan to improve Rhode Island’s worst-in-the-nation roads and bridges while putting thousands of Rhode Islanders back to work, is now law.

The legislation (2016-H 7409Aaa, 2016-S 2246Aaa) will repair more than 150 structurally deficient bridges and make repairs to another 500 bridges to prevent them from becoming deficient, bringing 90 percent of the state’s bridges into structural sufficiency by 2024. The Senate voted 25 to 12 to approve both its version of the legislation and the House’s identical version today, while the House voted 52 to 21 to approve its version yesterday and 50 to 18 to approve the Senate bill today.

“RhodeWorks is a plan that has been months in the making, with the public debate serving to inform our work and shape the plan into the strongest proposal available to address the challenge of repairing our roads and bridges. Competing proposals would raise taxes on working Rhode Islanders by taking steps such as increasing the diesel tax, or they divert funds from other priorities — including other road construction projects,” said President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed. “RhodeWorks is an investment that will fix Rhode Island’s roads and bridges, put Rhode Islanders to work and save taxpayers money. It is a reasonable solution that asks those who put the most wear and tear on our transportation infrastructure to contribute to its repair and upkeep, including those from out-of-state who otherwise wouldn’t contribute at all. It’s fair to Rhode Island taxpayers and will give us a sustainable source of income to finally maintain our roads and bridges properly, for the safety of those who use them and to make Rhode Island more attractive to growing businesses.”

Beyond improving the safety of Rhode Island’s transportation infrastructure, the plan will create 6,000 new construction jobs and pave the way for further job creation in the future by providing the infrastructure necessary for existing companies to expand and for attracting new companies to the state.

“This responsible legislation addresses our infrastructure, which is the most significant factor impacting the business community and the future of economic development in our state. We have the worst bridges, roads and overpasses in America and this plan will fix hundreds of them before an emergency occurs,” said House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston). “We have vastly improved the legislation since it was first introduced last spring, cutting the rate of borrowing in half and dramatically reducing the interest rate on the bonding, while inserting language to ensure that truck tolls will never be extended to other vehicles without voter approval. The passage of this bill is vital in ensuring a brighter future for our state.”

“I am grateful to the General Assembly for their commitment to take action on our crumbling roads and bridges, rebuild Rhode Island’s infrastructure, and create jobs. I particularly want to thank Speaker Mattiello, Senate President Paiva Weed, and the bill sponsors —  House Majority Leader John J. DeSimone and Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio — for their leadership. We have the worst bridges in America, and through a thoughtful process, involving months of study, debate, compromise, and collaboration, we have now taken action to tackle the problem. RhodeWorks will add thousands of jobs in Rhode Island, improve the safety of our roads, and make our state a more attractive place for businesses to grow and families to call home. I am proud to sign this legislation, and look forward to continuing our partnership to put Rhode Islanders back to work and grow our economy,” said Gov. Gina M. Raimondo.

The plan includes the institution of tolls for large commercial trucks, although the scope and price of the tolls were reduced in the revamped legislation. The plan would place 14 gantries around the state with an average toll of $3 each, with a cap of $20 per day in each direction for any truck crossing the state.

Large trucks cause the greatest share of vehicle-created damage to the state’s roads and bridges, and it is estimated that about 60 percent of trucks paying tolls will be from out of state, which means they are not otherwise supporting Rhode Island’s  infrastructure through taxes or fees.

Rhode Island is currently the only state on the East Coast that does not charge any tolls on highways, except Connecticut, which is currently considering tolls for both trucks and passenger vehicles.

RhodeWorks would not institute tolls for passenger vehicles, and, in fact, would create a new ban on any expansion of tolls beyond large commercial trucks unless voters approve it.

The bill underwent substantial overhaul since it was first introduced last year, in part to take advantage of hundreds of millions of federal highway funds garnered by the state’s congressional delegation. Those funds enabled the drastic reduction of borrowing from $600 million to $300 million, and reduced the state’s interest costs by 65 percent.

Legislative leaders said the changes resulted in significant improvements, not only saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars but also vastly strengthening oversight provisions to protect against delays, overspending and poor maintenance.

Further amendments made to the legislation include more stringent project oversight, timelines and reporting requirements for the Department of Transportation, as well as consequences for failure to meet them and minority contracting requirements. The bill mandates continued maintenance, which will also be subject to oversight, to protect the state’s investment and ensure rebuilt infrastructure lasts as long as possible.

“We have made great strides in recent years in focusing on improving the economic climate in our state by lowering our tax rates and eliminating unnecessary business burdens.  But the business community has told us that the number one issue of concern is infrastructure quality and accessibility. This legislation continues our focus on jobs and the economy. About 6,000 jobs will be created to fix our crumbling roads and bridges, getting people back to work in a trades industry that has been badly hurt in recent years, while at the same time lifting our ranking as the state with the worst roads and bridges in America,” said House Majority Leader John J. DeSimone (D-Dist. 5, Providence), who sponsored the bill in the House.

Said Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), “The DOT estimates that the acceleration of bridge reconstruction that will be accomplished under RhodeWorks will save Rhode Island taxpayers $950 million. Continuing to put this off means the problem becomes much more expensive to fix, and that is a tremendous disservice to Rhode Island taxpayers. RhodeWorks will also create thousands of jobs in the hard-hit construction industry, while bringing our roads and bridges back to an acceptable condition. It will also provide opportunities for businesses that service the construction industry who also have suffered from the downturn in the economy.”

For more information, contact:
Larry Berman, Communications Director for the Office of the Speaker
State House Room 322
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2466