Metro

State infrastructure falls flat

Despite large budget, Rhode Island lags behind other states in road and bridge conditions

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Rhode Island placed 47th in the country in the overall condition of its highway systems in 2012, according to a report out last month from the Reason Foundation.

The 21st Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems, which included data from 1984 to 2012, also ranked Rhode Island last in the percentage of bridges in deficient condition, with over 50 percent of its bridges considered “deficient.” Deficient bridges are those eligible for federally funded repairs, according to the study.

“That is a remarkable statistic,” said David Hartgen, one of the study’s authors and a senior fellow at the libertarian Reason Foundation.

“If I were a citizen of Rhode Island, I would want to know how it is we have four times as much money as the average state, and yet we are ranked in the 40s and 50s on condition,” Hartgen added.

Representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation were not available to comment on the report’s findings.

During the report’s review process, authors looked at “how each state is doing relative to the size of its budget and the size of its system,” Hartgen said. “Then we look at the results of each system.”

“This study puts a spotlight on each (highway) system,” Hartgen said, adding that the study “usually generates reaction” from both legislatures and governors’ offices.

Rhode Island’s poor infrastructure was also brought to light in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 Report Card For America’s Infrastructure. The report found that there were 156 structurally deficient bridges in Rhode Island, and 70 percent of major roads in Rhode Island were of “poor or mediocre quality” at the time of the report.

But some projects in recent years have aimed at improving the state’s infrastructure, including the Pawtucket River Bridge Replacement Project, which was announced in 2010 and completed during the summer of 2013. The project — which cost over $80 million — involved rehabilitating six small bridges to improve overall infrastructure, the Pawtucket Times reported at the time.

The bridge replacement project not only built new structures and created multiple jobs, but also transformed into a community-based project, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien told The Herald.

“The reason it started was because of the deficiencies that the (Transportation Department) found in the bridge itself,” Grebien said. “Once the community realized that this was important for Pawtucket and that Pawtucket could be so much more due to this project, they formed a committee, and people started advocating for more than an average bridge.”

Grebien added that community members believed the Pawtucket bridge could “become a destination” rather than be just “a bridge that everyone drove over.”

The final result became “an iconic structure” of Pawtucket, as it promotes the city’s access off I-95 and highlights Pawtucket’s history with its “art deco” design that matches City Hall, Grebien said.

Though the major portion of the bridge was completed last year, work on some phases of the project continues, Grebien said, adding that the construction of an overlook park is scheduled to be completed by this spring.