Christian Roselund: Why Peter Alviti Must Go
An Open Letter to Members of the Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee
Dear Members of the Senate Finance Committee,
Some time in the coming weeks, you will vote on whether or not to re-confirm Peter Alviti as director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT). This is a very important vote that has big implications for the safety of Rhode Island residents on our roads, and will likely determine whether or not we meet our target under the Act on Climate.
But before we start, I want to tell you about the tragic death of Mason Sterne.
In 2018, a driver ran over 6-year old Mason on the East Bay Bike Path, while he was crossing Poppasquash Road in Bristol. This is a site where there is a stop sign for bikes, but none for cars, and residents have known for a long time that it is dangerous. The state’s response to this tragic death was to trim the bushes along the path. Faced with this lack of meaningful action, Bristol residents took matters into their own hands, and put up a stop sign for cars in a bucket full of concrete.
This tragic incident and the failure to act meaningfully to prevent it from happening again is, unfortunately, emblematic of RIDOT’s attitude towards cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders. RIDOT’s active hostility to active transportation starts at the top, with RIDOT Director Peter Alviti. Since he was first appointed by Governor Gina Raimondo in 2015, Alviti has been shockingly open about his disregard for anyone not in a car, and for anyone who advocates for better transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure. You can hear it when he bullies female advocates in public meetings, or in his regular rants on Gene Valicente’s radio show.
Let’s talk specifics: In 2019 RIDOT attempted to raid $37 million from the Transportation Alternatives Program to fund highway projects. In 2021 Alviti sought to force the city of Providence to pay $4.4 million in an attempt to get the city to rip out the newly installed South Water Street Urban Trail (the federal government did not go along with this). And under RIDOT there has been near-complete inaction to build the projects in the state’s fully approved and vetted Bicycle Mobility Plan and Transit Master Plan.
RIDOT under Alviti has likewise shown disregard for our state’s climate targets. Transportation represents 39.7% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and we cannot reach our 2030 targets without significant reductions from this sector. But due to the length of time that most cars stay on the road, even the most ambitious plans to move to electric vehicles still fall short of what is needed. In order to meet our state’s climate mandates, in addition to electrification we will need to move to a system that facilitates less driving and more trips by mass transit and active transportation, including cycling and walking.
Despite the passage of the Act on Climate in 2020, RIDOT under Alviti has doubled down on its regressive approach. The agency sought out $125 million in federal funds to add lanes to I-95, refused to offer a transparent or credible approach to measuring greenhouse gas emissions, and continued to behave as a rogue agency. During the process of cramming highway expansions into the $748 Minor Amendment #2 in 2020, RIDOT did pretend – badly – to estimate the expected greenhouse gas emissions of its projects. However, when questioned about its numbers RIDOT has produced no methodology for doing so.
We have seen what Director Alviti did during the last four years, and it would be absurd to think that he will act any differently if given another four years. Make no mistake: A vote for Peter Alviti represents a choice to deliberately and knowingly fail to meet our Act on Climate targets. We simply cannot meet the 45% by 2030 mandate with the approach that Alviti has taken to running RIDOT.
And as these are legally binding targets, ignoring them opens the state up to lawsuits.
Rhode Island needs and deserves a director of transportation with a 21st century vision, not one from 1960. We need and deserve a director of transportation who will take our climate targets seriously and help to build the infrastructure that we need to keep our residents safe, and not stand in the way of it. There are plenty of such people available for the job, and if Governor McKee doesn’t appoint one of them, then you need to send back his pick and tell him to choose again.
We all know that Alviti is supported by powerful people in our state. But as senators, your constituents did not send you to the senate to serve the whims of Dominick Ruggerio or to help out Senator Jack Reed’s high school buddy. You were sent by the people of your districts to act in their best interest.
You can choose the role of continuing with the crony politics that have plagued our state for generations. It will be better in the short run for your political careers. Or you can choose what is best for the state, and for future generations. And that will take courage. I hope that you can find it.