07.18.14

Whitehouse, Chafee, Langevin & Cicilline Highlight Threat to Jobs & Safety Posed by Potential Highway Shutdown

State Leaders Toured Great Island Bridge Project in Narragansett Today

Narragansett, RI – Today, as Congress considers extending funding for critical road and bridge projects across the country, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Governor Lincoln Chafee, and U.S. Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline joined Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) Director Michael Lewis to tour Narragansett’s Great Island Bridge, which RIDOT has rated “functionally obsolete” and in immediate need of replacement.  If Congress fails to act, the Highway Trust Fund could run short of the funds necessary to fully reimburse states as soon as August – delaying important projects like the Great Island Bridge and putting nearly 3,600 Rhode Island jobs at risk, according to a White House estimate.

During the tour, Director Lewis showed the group the poor condition of the 55-year-old wooden structure, which connects Galilee to Great Island, a community of roughly 350 homes – many of which house year-round residents.  The Great Island Bridge serves as the only entry point and is part of the island’s evacuation route.  During an inspection in 2013, RIDOT determined that the bridge’s timber deck showed severe deterioration.  The state made emergency repairs and was forced to lower the bridge’s weight limit to three tons.  RIDOT warns that further delay in replacing the bridge could lead to more emergency repairs at taxpayers’ expense.

“Putting off urgent repairs to roads and bridges can put Rhode Islanders at risk and often costs taxpayers more in the long run.  It also threatens important jobs at a time when our unemployment rate is still far too high,” said Whitehouse, who serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, which approved legislation in May to reauthorize federal highway funding for six years.  “Rhode Island simply can’t afford a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, and I’ll continue fighting to ensure Congress extends funding in the coming weeks.”

“While we are encouraged that the House has approved a temporary funding extension, without a continuous federal funding commitment, we cannot afford to commit resources to existing and future construction projects,” Governor Lincoln D. Chafee said. “Having a long-term bill in place would allow Rhode Island to more readily rely on the federal program to fund projects such as the Great Island Bridge in Narragansett.”

“The Great Island Bridge is sadly just one example of the many roads and bridges in disrepair in our state,” said Langevin.  “Unless we address the trust fund shortfall immediately, not only do we threaten public safety, but we jeopardize thousands of jobs that our state cannot afford to lose right now. While I am pleased that the House adopted a short-term funding measure this week, we must continue working towards a long-term solution to bring safety and stability to our infrastructure programs.”

“We have a responsibility to fund projects that maintain and improve Rhode Island’s highways, roads, bridges and transit infrastructure,” said Cicilline. “I was glad to help advance legislation in the House this week that will provide a short-term fix and give our state critical resources to fund transportation projects such as Narragansett’s Great Island Bridge. We must find a long-term solution to ensure Rhode Island receives ongoing funding to address our transportation needs.”

“We applaud our Delegation's efforts to address the federal Highway Trust Fund shortfall,” RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis said. “While we are encouraged by the recent actions taken in Washington, a long-term solution is needed if we are to meet the growing list of needs we have here in Rhode Island. Given the uncertainty of federal funding, we have delayed 20 projects statewide, worth a total construction value of $67 million.  An extension of the trust fund through May 2015 allows us to move some of these projects forward, such as the Great Island Bridge, but not all.  We are still faced with having to reserve resources for debt service payments, emergencies, and ongoing construction contracts.  Without a long-term solution, ten months from now, we will be in the same position as we are today.”   

A White House report released this week showed that Rhode Island has the highest percentage of structurally deficient or obsolete bridges in the country, and is tied with Connecticut for the highest percentage of roads in poor condition.

###