December 4, 2015

RI Delegation Backs FAST Act to Boost Transportation Investment in RI

New 5-year bill authorizes an average of over $270 million a year for RI transportation programs

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline of Rhode Island applauded passage of a five-year $305 billion transportation authorization bill that should help provide states, communities, and businesses with a greater level of certainty. 

Under the new, bipartisan Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, roughly $205 billion would be authorized for highways, $48 billion would be authorized for transit, and the remaining funds would be dedicated to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration programs.  It is estimated that Rhode Island will receive an average of $231.7 million a year in federal funding for roads and bridges and another $39 million per year for mass transit programs.  Under current law, the state receives about $211 million annually for highways and $36.3 million for transit.

In the first year after the bill becomes law, Rhode Island is authorized to receive nearly $222 million in highway funding, a 5 percent boost over current levels.  By 2020, the annual authorization for the state are projected reach more than $242 million.  During the same period, Rhode Island transit funding will grow at over 3 percent in the first year to over $37 million; by 2020 Rhode Island will receive nearly $40 million in annual transit funding.

The last multi-year highway and transit law expired in October 2009.  Since then, federal aid to states has been provided through a series of short-term bills that ranged in length from two years to just a few days.

Members of the delegation worked to include a number of important measures for Rhode Island. 

Calling the bill “imperfect, but long overdue,” Senator Jack Reed, who has prioritized Rhode Island infrastructure and public works investments as the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD), said the new multi-year authorization could help lead to the first long-term transportation upgrades that states have been able to make in years.  Reed, who also serves on the Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over the mass-transit portion of the bill, helped successfully remove language from the final legislation that would have meant a cut in federal funding to the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) of over $8.5 million annually.  In addition to restoring these funds, Reed helped increase the overall investment in mass transit programs. 

“We need to wisely invest in our transportation infrastructure to enhance safety, generate jobs, and strengthen our transportation network.  This bill provides state transportation departments some measure of certainty as they look to finance maintenance and improvement projects.  It should help RIDOT and RIPTA accelerate needed repairs and better plan for large-scale investments,” said Senator Reed.  “We need a strong transportation network that drives economic growth and helps communities thrive.  And we should pay for it with a smart, sustainable stream of funding instead of resorting to one-time patches and budget gimmicks.  I would have liked to have invested more money in each year of the bill so that we can make faster progress in addressing Rhode Island’s infrastructure needs, but this compromise at least offers some needed funding certainty over the next five years.”

As a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Senator Whitehouse worked to include a new program he has long pursued—the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program—which will provide $4.5 billion over the 5-year period for large-scale infrastructure projects such as the 6-10 Connector interchange in Providence.  Whitehouse also authored language directing the Federal Highway Administration to study the infrastructure applications of high-tech composite building materials, a growing Rhode Island industry.  Another Whitehouse provision would support energy and water efficiency improvements in federally subsidized buildings.

“With this agreement, Congress finally delivers the resources and certainty Rhode Island needs to plan for our infrastructure needs and to tackle overdue projects like reconstruction of the decrepit 6-10 Connector,” Senator Whitehouse said.  “This funding will create jobs, make our roads and bridges safer, and grow our economy.”

According to the Federal Highway Administration, Rhode Island has 6,480 miles of roadway.  Of the state’s 1,745 miles of roadway eligible for federal aid, 37 percent are rated “not acceptable” and need major repairs or replacement.  And according to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), the state ranks last in the nation in overall bridge condition.  More than one in five of the 1,162 bridges in Rhode Island are structurally deficient.

The FAST Act includes language adapted from Congressman Langevin’s Transit Accessibility Innovation Act that would encourage transit systems to make public transportation more accessible and user-friendly for individuals with disabilities.  Under current law, transit systems may use up to 10 percent of their Federal Transit Administration funds to provide paratransit services.  Langevin’s provision would increase that ratio to 20 percent if the transit system is able to address accessibility deficiencies and improve service in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Transportation infrastructure impacts our lives and our economy in so many ways, and in Rhode Island, our infrastructure needs are significant.  This bill not only provides the funding for important highway, bridge and public transit projects, but it also brings predictability to the process of budgeting, planning and ultimately completing improvement projects across the state,” said Congressman Langevin.  “I am especially pleased that the bill includes language from my legislation to encourage transit accessibility.  Accessible public transportation is essential for people with disabilities to live independently with strong connections to their communities.”

Congressman David Cicilline advocated to protect funding for the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) through the 5340 High Density States program‎. Cicilline successfully urged negotiators to remove language that would have threatened $12 million in annual funding that supports quality, affordable public transportation in Rhode Island. As a result, the bill passed today protects critical funding for RIPTA. 

“I am pleased that we finally passed a long-term transportation bill that will create jobs rebuilding Rhode Island’s crumbling bridges, roads, and schools.  After years of short-term fixes that failed to make significant investments in infrastructure repairs, this bill is a welcome step forward,” said Congressman Cicilline.  “I especially applaud conferees for ensuring that this bill protects public transportation funding in Rhode Island.  I look forward to continuing to work to ensure we make additional investments in our states infrastructure.”

The bill was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives by a 359-65 vote and in the Senate by a vote of 83-16.  All four members of the delegation voted in favor of the bill.  The measure now goes to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.


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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921