To answer the title question, lots! Did you know there are bills in the legislature, S0633, H5883, to have the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) borrow $200 million from future Federal highway funds (called “GARVEE” bonds), apparently so they can afford a $250 million project to widen I-95 northbound in the center of Providence? This, even though it may seem strange that in this day and age RIDOT would widen a freeway in the center of a historic city when there are so many reasons, from climate change to reducing the outflow of dollars from our local economy, to try to reduce the amount of driving.
Some background: By now most of us have heard that transportation is the sector with the most greenhouse gas emissions, and those emissions are growing. Yet it has gotten relatively little attention.
I think there are several reasons for this. For one, compared to how we generate power, its not that easy to reduce transportation emissions. Most can afford to drive, Rhode Island is not that congested and there is plenty of free parking. RIDOT tries to accommodate the drive-everywhere culture, for example, by rebuilding the 6-10 interchange at great expense so that suburbanites can whisk through the city even though the interchange has severely impacted the Olneyville area and the community was interested in studying a much cheaper boulevard alternative. RIDOT built new a I-295 interchange to get most of Citizens Bank‘s workforce to a new “campus” with no real alternative to driving. And now RIDOT is begining the megaproject to widen I-95 in hopes motorists won’t have to sometimes slow down while going through the city.
Most of us do drive everywhere and are reluctant to walk or bike more, or to use transit. But almost everyone doing the the same thing does create problems, especially with regard to climate change.
Despite the signs of RIDOT’s 1950s mentality, things may be changing. The state did join a regional Transportation Climate Initiative to find a scheme to reduce emissions. Though RIDOT had proposed substantially cutting back its bicycle/pedestrian program, protests from an active bike community and some extra Federal funding has put those cuts on hold for now. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) is working on a “Bike Master Plan” to promote use of this most truly zero-emission vehicle. There is also a “Transit Master Plan” under development which has encouraged Grow Smart RI and a regional partner called Transit Matters to put forth a vision of how to make transit really work for all our goals by greatly improving the MBTA commuter rail and using the spine of Rhode Island’s rail corridor for in-state electric rapid transit. Visit growsmartri.com for more information and expect to hear about it in upcoming meetings and hearings. Providence is expanding its bike-share and even RIDOT, in addition to fixing the roads and bridges that almost all of us want to see done, is also advancing the Pawtucket-Central Falls commuter rail station, promoting seasonal Providence-Newport ferry service, and working with RIPTA to both get electric buses and to experiment with autonomous vehicles to provide new transit service. They also lead an active Traffic Safety Coalition that is working to make the roads safer for all.
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