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Infrastructure: paving the path to economic growth

Unemployment among the building trades in Rhode Island is astonishingly high: more than 25 percent by some estimates. Yet we have a tremendous opportunity to put people back to work in this industry while at the same time making our roads safer, saving our families and municipalities money, and making our state a more attractive place to do business. Despite the fact that state spending on infrastructure is high, our roads and bridges are among the worst in the country, and our buildings and energy infrastructure is dirty, inefficient and outdated. Rhode Islanders deserve better.

Having a world-class infrastructure will require serious investment, and strategic thinking about how we use our resources. We need to be smarter about how we maintain our infrastructure, and more creative when we look for ways to finance upgrades. In short, we need to develop a plan to deal with our infrastructure, and we must execute that plan. And we need to ensure that our investments in infrastructure are saving us money in the long term.

Our state’s infrastructure is a patchwork of state- and municipal-owned assets. Therefore we must improve our infrastructure efforts at both the state and city/town level.

Much of the burden of maintaining roads and bridges falls on our municipalities, whose property taxes are already far too high, and budgets far too tight. That’s why, as governor,
I will create the Rhode Island Municipal Infrastructure Bank, to help our cities and towns get the funding they need to finance critical infrastructure upgrades, save more money over time, maintain their roads and bridges and retrofit their communities to make them more energy-efficient.

The Rhode Island Municipal Infrastructure Bank will be a one-stop shop for municipalities that want to upgrade their infrastructure. It will:

  1. Expand and manage the Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund, so that our cities and towns have access to low-interest loans for immediate upgrades to their surface infrastructure;

  2. Establish a Road and Bridge Funding Formula to fund ongoing maintenance so that our local roads never again become as deteriorated and dilapidated as they are now;

  3. Create a Green Bank to help towns, businesses and homeowners retrofit their buildings and facilities with green, energy-efficient technologies;

  4. Create a School Building Authority to stimulate construction and capital improvements in schools while saving our school districts and local education authorities money; and,

  5. House expertise on best practices, data collection, and new technologies so that municipalities are implementing the best-possible infrastructure solutions.

The state itself must also be creative and strategic when it comes to its infrastructure assets. As governor, I will ensure that the state is:

  • Utilizing a road and bridge funding formula for state highways and bridges for ongoing maintenance to keep them in peak condition;

  • Seeking opportunities for private capital to pay for desperately needed infrastructure projects without putting our state in debt; and,

  • Retrofitting state-owned buildings and facilities with energy-efficient, green technologies.

Jobs Created

Every $10 million of spending on infrastructure projects supports approximately 150 jobs in the construction and building trades. The Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund, which I created last year with the General Assembly, is lending nearly $20 million this year alone. When combined with increases in spending on school construction, as well as the retrofitting of public buildings and facilities with energy-efficient upgrades, this plan will generate upwards of 4,000 new jobs over the next five years.

Infrastructure projects also have a powerful multiplier affect. Every 100 jobs created in the building and construction trades support an additional 83 jobs in other industries.

Investment

Most of this plan is paid for using the reallocation of already-existing sources of funding. For example, the Green Bank will be capitalized using money currently allocated to the Rhode Island Commerce Corp’s Renewable Energy Fund.

The Road and Bridge Funding Formula would likely require $10-20 million per year in aid to cities and towns to fund. Additionally, the Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund will need about $40 million over the course of the next 20 years, which will enable us to invest more than $400 million in roads and bridges in that same period.

This strategy will also allow us to attract private capital to our infrastructure projects, particularly for energy-efficiency upgrades. 

Click here to read my full plan.

A Vision For RIPTA And Public Transit In Rhode Island

A robust, coordinated plan for public transit can help our state tackle many of the biggest issues it faces today: economic inequality, job creation, and environment sustainability to name a few. Yet, despite these advantages, our state continues to neglect and underfund its transit agency. We can simultaneously position ourselves for long‑term economic growth, and ensure that every Rhode Islander has the same opportunities as I did, if we recommit to RIPTA and public transit in Rhode Island. When I kicked off my campaign in January, I left the rally on a RIPTA bus bound for Providence. In my administration, mass transit will be a priority, because I know first-­hand how important it is.

As governor, I will dedicate myself to the following six goals: 

1. Finding a stable, sustainable funding formula for RIPTA.

In addition to bus fare and federal support, RIPTA is funded primarily by the state’s gas tax. This has the effect of actually decreasing funding for the agency when the demand for bus transit is at its highest. As more and more people opt to take the bus instead of driving their own cars, revenue from the gas tax decreases, precisely as expenses for the agency start to go up.

As governor, I will work to diversify sources of RIPTA’s revenue so that it is no longer dependent on a tax that decreases as ridership increases. I will incorporate RIPTA into a statewide transportation plan, which will allow the state to distribute costs across a variety of sources of revenue. I have called for the utilization of a statewide Road and Bridge Funding Formula, to more precisely allocate state dollars for infrastructure maintenance. Savings from this program can be diverted to RIPTA, which will result in further savings as we reduce the number of cars on our roads, reducing maintenance expenses in the process.

2. Exploring Opportunities for Public Private Partnerships

Public transit also presents an opportunity to explore public private partnerships to expand access to RIPTA and other transportation options at minimal additional cost. Cities like Washington, D.C. have added popular and successful bus lines by partnering with private businesses to help reduce the cost of added services while adding new bus lines. As governor, I will work with RIPTA to explore opportunities to expand service while reducing additional costs to the system.

And we can work more closely with local businesses who will stand to benefit from partnerships with RIPTA. Our state’s colleges and universities are already doing something similar: the UPASS program provides students with unlimited RIPTA rides, and is funded in part by the schools themselves. We should work with local companies to create commuter options using the same model, so that businesses can provide their employees with the option to save money on gas and automobile repairs, and commute to work on the bus.

3. Investing in a Comprehensive Intermodal Transit System with Multiple Hubs

One of Rhode Island’s greatest assets is its geographical location. Our proximity to Boston and New York makes us an attractive place to do business and put down roots. Between TF Green Airport, our location along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, our bustling ports and marinas, and our increasingly walkable and bikable cities, we have a tremendous opportunity to make the state even more attractive and accessible. We can use RIPTA to capitalize on these advantages, by tying together our state’s transportation infrastructure with a comprehensive bus network.

We’re already taking a step in the right direction: voters will be asked to approve a $40 million bond to create two new transit hubs in Providence this November. These new hubs make it easier for Rhode Islanders to get to the Amtrak station and the Jewelry District.

But we must invest in hubs in additional locations throughout Rhode Island. If we make it easier to reach different parts of our state, we can help drive economic development in those areas, increase ridership, and improve accessibility all at once.

As governor, I will work with RIPTA to ensure that our transit strategy ties all our state’s transportation options together, and connects more of Rhode Island’s communities and neighborhoods. And I will work to improve the RIde experience so that Rhode Island’s elderly and disabled will be able to reap the benefits of these improvements and have even greater mobility and access to our state’s transportation network.

4. Attracting More Riders to RIPTA and Improving the Transit Experience.

Increasing RIPTA ridership has many benefits: cleaner air, less traffic, increased political support for the program, and less wear and tear on our roads (to name a few). But in order to increase ridership, we need to make the system more user‑friendly. As governor, I will work to secure sources of private and federal funding to improve the rider experience, including new features like:

  • Mobile apps with maps, transit directions, and bus trackers

  • Branding of particular lines and services to increase visibility

  • Real‑time bus arrival and departure signs at key hubs

  • Improved, unified fare payment systems

  • Strategic marketing efforts in targeted areas to drive ridership

5. Improving the System and Saving Money with Better Routes and Transit Options

If we truly want a thriving, effective public transit plan, we must embrace the reality that not all commutes in Rhode Island are to‑and‑from Providence. To both save money and increase ridership, I will work with RIPTA to undergo a full review of its routes and commuting patterns in Rhode Island, and construct routes that truly match the flow of people going to work and school, so that we are getting the most bang for our buck.

And for Rhode Island’s cities, I will work to accelerate the adoption of Rapid Bus Transit. My own campaign headquarters is about to benefit from the introduction of RIPTA’s R‑Line, a rapid bus transit line that moves people through the city faster and more efficiently. Bus Rapid Transit lines give us a great mix of the advantages of both commuter rail lines and busses: they are faster and have greater volume, but still allow for flexibility in routes and are less expensive to implement. As governor, I will work with RIPTA to explore ways we can improve Bus Rapid Transit, by possibly creating bus‑only traffic lanes, prioritizing stop lights and strategic placement of transit hubs.

6. Working with Cities and Towns to Encourage more Transit Oriented Development.

“Transit Oriented Development” is a strategy of promoting high-­‐‑density, mixed use communities that are accessible without a vehicle. When businesses, residences, and retail stores set up shop within walking distance of transit hubs, vibrant communities emerge.

Communities that are linked by mass transit stops have lower levels of pollution, and promote walking and biking, making them healthier than areas dependent on car travel. And they promote economic opportunity, by making the entire state accessible to people who live in those communities.

As governor, I will work with our cities and towns to create incentives for development projects within walking distance of RIPTA stops and transit hubs. Many of these incentives, like modifications to existing zoning laws or the reduction of street parking, can be done at little or no cost to our municipalities.

As a Rhode Islander who has experienced the value of public transportation first hand, I am excited by the prospect of building a transit system that can help our state grow. I look forward to working with you as governor to make this vision a reality. 

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