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Broad Range of Labor, Business, Community Groups Support RhodeWorks Plan to Bolster RI’s Infrastructure

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The Rhode Island legislature is currently debating a plan which would raise tolls on big-rig trucks in order to pay for long overdue infrastructure improvements. Known as RhodeWorks, the plan is supported by a wide array of groups and would help the department of transportation fund a massive infrastructure overhaul in a state where bridges and roads have been ranked at or near the bottom. 

The plan is controversial because of the associated toll hikes. While speaking at a rally, however, Governor Gina Raimondo jokingly compared raising money through tolls to healthy eating, a necessary, but difficult way to improve the state’s infrastructure, saying:

“I wish you could eat cake and lose weight.  But you can’t. It’s true you can’t. We need money to fix our roads and bridges.”

Supporting the plan is a coalition of labor, business, and community groups. Several of the groups that support RhodeWorks had leaders in attendance at a recent rally to garner support for the plan before it was voted on by legislative panels.  Those in attendance included:

Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White, AAA of Southern New England Senior Vice President Lloyd Albert, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island CEO and President Peter Andruszkiewicz, Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council President Michael Sabitoni, Grow Smart Rhode Island Executive Director Scott Wolf, Lt. Governor Dan McKee, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.

Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White touched on the dire need for infrastructure improvements in Rhode Island:

“Fixing our bridges and roads is an absolute necessity and business imperative.  Rhode Island’s 50 out of 50 ranking [on bridge condition] puts us at the bottom of the pack of the number one issue that matters to business. Let me repeat that: We are dead last in the nation on the number one issue that matters to business. We must deal with the crisis. We must deal with it now.”

Following the rally, the House Finance Committee voted 14-4 to pass the bill and the Senate Finance Committee followed suit.  A full vote on the infrastructure plan is expected very soon.

If passed as is, the plan would borrow $300 million against future federal highway funding and refinance old borrowing to yield an additional $120 million. It would impose a new toll on large commercial trucks.  According to the Senate Fiscal Office, the two initiatives would generate a net total of $543 million in new revenue for the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT) between 2016 and 2020.  Supporters argue that the plan will save money for the state in the long-term by cutting down on the future costs of inevitable infrastructure improvements.  

Former Pennsylvania Governor and current co-chair of Building America’s Future, Ed Rendell, penned an op-ed for the Providence Journal in which he rallied support for the RhodeWorks plan, calling it common sense to improve infrastructure at a time when the federal government cannot come up with a long-term infrastructure plan:

RhodeWorks is a commonsense proposal that closely mirrors what has worked in many other states in our country: tying a fee to commercial trucks that use Rhode Island’s roads. In fact, effectively every other state in the Northeast already has some sort of large commercial truck “user fee.” The revenues of this fee would go directly toward improving the dire road conditions that cause frustrating weight restrictions or closures in Rhode Island, and make the state a less attractive place to do business. In addition, these roads and bridges threaten public safety — a grave concern that cannot be ignored any longer.

Though there remain slight concerns in the state legislature given the large amount of future borrowing involved, the organized vetting process that went into crafting the plan has ensured its fiscal soundness.  General Treasurer Seth Magazine came out in favor of the plan, noting that his office has monitored the plan throughout the process:

“This is a financially responsible plan that balances the urgent need to repair our infrastructure with the responsibility to never borrow beyond our means.  By shifting a portion of the cost to out-of-state trucks and utilizing newly authorized federal funding, RhodeWorks will put thousands to work repairing our bridges without excessive borrowing or broad-based tax increases.”

Debate on RhodeWorks continues.  Leaders in both parties believe their is enough support for it too pass.


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