Metro, News

State withdraws cuts to bike, pedestrian infrastructure

New federal funding from national spending law to go toward bridge repairs, highway enhancements

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation withdrew a proposed amendment that would have reduced state funding by $27.67 million for bike and pedestrian infrastructure Friday, citing an influx of federal funds for instrastructure improvements.

The initial amendment would have postponed projects relating to bike infrastructure and transportation alternatives, instead prioritizing bridge repairs, said Pamela Cotter, administrator of Rhode Island Division of Planning. The proposed amendment was not “cancelling any projects,” or removing any bike paths from the ten-year State Transportation Improvement Program, she said. The state felt they had “to put (their) funding first into bridges that are falling down,” she added.

Among other things, the amendment would have delayed funding for the implementation of City Walk in Providence until 2021, as well as eliminated $1.8 million for citywide bike infrastructure enhancements from the 2023-25 fiscal years, according to a staff report by the Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission.

RIDOT withdrew the amendment following news of federal support, which includes $54.5 million for bridge improvement and repair projects, RIDOT announced in a press release. The funding comes from a $69.7 million federal transportation grant to the state, with the remaining $15.1 million allocated to highway enhancement.  The federal grant is part of a national spending law written by Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, which will provide a total of $475 million to aid the states most in need of bridge repairs.One of the central bridge repair projects will be the Henderson Bridge, which connects the city of East Providence with the eastern side of Providence. The bridge was declared structurally deficient in 1996, and millions of dollars have since been spent on repairs, according to the Boston Globe.

With this new influx of federal funding for bridge repairs, the need to transfer money from the Transportation Alternatives Program toward bridges is no longer as pressing. But it remains unclear if there will be changes to transportation alternatives in its ten year funding plan going forward. Officials must study their options and “adjust (their) capital programming accordingly,” wrote Lisbeth Pettengill, a spokeswoman for RIDOT, in an email to The Herald.

Funding bike infrastructure is viewed as essential by activists, both because it supports a cheap and accessible mode of transportation and because it is as an integral method for lowering emissions and making Rhode Island more sustainable.

“Bikes are a main form of transportation,” said Sarah Mitchell, member of Rhode Island Bike Coalition. “They’re not just something you do for fun. It’s how you get to work, it’s how you get to school, it’s how you go do your errands,” she said, adding that “we can’t wait ten years, we need (bike paths) now.” Mitchell also emphasized the importance of alternate forms of transportation in reducing the state’s carbon footprint, referencing Gov. Gina Raimondo’s recent commitment to join nearby states in cutting down on emissions from the transportation sector.

While Mitchell expressed frustration with the initial amendment, she is now “cautiously optimistic” about the federal funding. On the other hand, former Bikes at Brown member Harry August ’19 remains skeptical. “It doesn’t seem like the city walked back its proposal, they just got lucky with the federal funding,” he said. “My question is whether they actually understand why that proposal was so bad and if it was just an easy way out without confronting what they’re actually trying to do.”

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