Public Services

Governor claims groups opposed to the racist multi-hub bus plan have no alternatives – Actually they have three…

UpriseRI: Following up on that, Governor, right now there’s zero percent buy in from the community, right?Governor McKee: No, that’s not accurate.
Photo for Governor claims groups opposed to the racist multi-hub bus plan have no alternatives – Actually they have three…

Published on June 23, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

“I’ve met with groups that are against it,” said Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee about the proposed multi-hub plan to destroy Kennedy Plaza. “They don’t really have a proposal of what they’re for…”

The Governor is mistaken. Actually, groups opposed to the multi-hub proposal have three plans.

“As it relates to the future of a central transit hub in the capital city, there are in fact alternatives to [the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT)]’s problematic multi-hub plan that advocates have repeatedly pointed to,” write John Flaherty, Deputy Director at Grow Smart RI. “Among them are proposals that have been carefully studied and have earned broad community support.”

  • One is Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s own modest proposal, developed in 2018 with significant stakeholder input.
  • Another, the multimodal transportation center at Providence Station reflects the original inspiration behind the 2014 transit bond campaign.
  • And a third very promising proposal from two local business leaders earned strong interest from transit patrons. It could be the Goldilocks of options for stepping up our game just as the state looks to increased use of transit to achieve ambitious new emission reduction targets.

All the plans “represent transformational improvements to our transit system, the surrounding public space and the resulting economic revitalization,” said Flaherty. “All are practical, and with the right leadership are within the reach of a mid-sized up-and-coming metro region like Providence.”

The Governor made his comments at his Tuesday afternoon press conference in response to questions submitted by UpriseRI on Monday morning, after UpriseRI determined that the Rhode Island House of Representatives had removed an extension of the 2014 Transportation Bond that would have paid for the multi-hub plan from its proposed 2022 Rhode Island Budget. UpriseRI wanted to know if this lack of funding meant that the plan was dead, but Governor McKee averred that the plan was very much alive.

Here’s the video:

“…we’re already in the works of going through the process of bonding those dollars, so that we’ll have those dollars available,” said Governor McKee. “We know it didn’t get renewed, we’re going to borrow the money, and then we’re going to put together a plan to get the most value for the State of Rhode Island out of the dollars that we borrow.”

Asked about the public opposition to the plan, which includes nearly every transportation, racial, environmental and social justice working in Providence, as well as the Providence City Council, American Planning Association of RI, many elected Senators and Representatives and the South Providence Neighborhood Association, Governor McKee was dismissive. [Note that the Providence City Council passed a resolution opposing the plan under the leadership of then City Council President, now Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, who was silent as the Governor announced his intentions.]

Governor McKee: As I’ve mentioned before publicly, you’re not going to get 100% buy in for this plan. You actually have to determine what the best course of action is. That’s what we’re going to do, that’s what we’re going to be proposing. We’re going to want weigh in from people to determine exactly what we’re going to do but you’re not going to get 100%. It’s pretty obvious you’re not going to get 100% buy in on what you’re going to do here.

UpriseRI: Following up on that, Governor, right now there’s zero percent buy in from the community, right?

Governor McKee: No, that’s not accurate.

UpriseRI: I think it is accurate. Every community group that deals with transportation, the Providence City Council, every other group I’ve talked to is 100% against the plan as currently proposed.

Governor McKee: I don’t think that’s accurate. We’ll find out when…

UpriseRI: What groups do you know that are for it? Because I don’t know of any.

Governor McKee: Yeah well I’ve met with groups that are against it. They don’t really have a proposal of what they’re for. So, until we actually get a plan that they can have agreement on we’ll move forward.

But like I said, if you can’t get agreement in the City, that’s a statewide bond and there’s many, many improvements that people are waiting on throughout the State of Rhode Island in terms of transportation, so we’re not going to let that money sit in the bank accounts very long before we commit how o spend it. So we;” bond those dollars sometime in October/November and prior to that we’ll rollout the strategy. If there’s such pushback from the community as you say, then we’ll spend the community somewhere else.

UpriseRI: So the idea is that we’ll spend the money against the community’s wishes in Providence or we’ll spend it somewhere else – but we’re not going to do a plan the community might approve of?

Governor McKee: Well again, you’ve got to determine – I’ve been in many conversations where the loudest voice is saying they’re against something – like the SROs in Providence – yet the majority of students, the majority of families that we polled are for it, right? And the majority of teachers and administrators.

UpriseRI: Is that poll public?

Governor McKee: So you have to see – make a determination – whether it’s the loud voice pushing the issue or whether it’s the common interest of the community and I think that we’ll get that impression from the elected officials of course, but again, if they are just objecting to a plan without having a plan, that’s not a valid abjection.

“We agree with the Governor that you’ll never get 100% buy-in on any one plan, but he needs to know the level of opposition and flaw with the multi-hub plan that he inherited,” said Flaherty. “We continue to pledge our constructive help in bringing the community together around a downtown transit hub that helps get more people where they’re going quickly, safely, efficiently and affordably.”

UpriseRI also reached out to Dwayne Keys, Chair of the South Providence Neighborhood Association (SPNA). The SPNA and GrowSmart filed a Title VI Civil Rights complaint against RIDOT’s proposed multi-hub plan and the response from RIDOT was superficial, flimsy and bewildering.

“When the Rhode Island taxpaying voters approved borrowing money to cover expenses to benefit our transit system back in 2014, they did so on the premise that such funding (that we must pay back, with interest) were to be used for it’s intended purpose: transit! This proposed multi-hub plan does nothing of the sort,” writes Keys in his repsonse. “Given that this multi-hub plan is focused on non-transit oriented activities, it does make one wonder if the pursuit of this plan would constitute misappropriation, an unlawful act. Along with not fulfilling the intended purpose of the bond passage, the plan will create multiple disparate impacts to those who currently use our public transit system – many who identify as people of color, the elderly, the disabled, and other historically excluded groups – members of federal and state protected classes of people in which civil rights laws have been established to protect them from such racist and discriminatory actions.

“Many alternative options as to how these transit-oriented bond funds have already been proposed: creating mini-hubs in other cities and towns, creating routes going east and west across the state instead of the current routing system, improving our public transit infrastructure in a way that reduces costs both with fares and annual funding approved by our General Assembly, and the list goes on,” continued Keys. “Perhaps if the Governor focuses on supporting a proposal that is in line with what the voters approved, then he’ll experience a consensus of overwhelming support and embrace of a plan that truly improves public transit as well as improves the experience of those who use it.”

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