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Providence Journal: Rhode Island should support RhodeWorks

By Ray Lahood


America’s infrastructure made this country great. But for too long our roads and bridges have been neglected and fallen into disrepair. America stopped investing in itself when it stopped investing in its infrastructure. Other countries are running laps around us in terms of infrastructure investment, because they understand that building roads, bridges, high-speed rail and modern airports is an investment in their own people and in their economic competitiveness. We’ve lost that vision here.

America is one big pothole, and things are particularly bad in Rhode Island. Your state has the worst bridges in the country.

In Washington, D.C., Congress struggles to invest enough in our infrastructure and provide a sustainable source of federal funding. I’m impressed that Rhode Island is bucking that trend and demonstrating leadership instead. Governor Raimondo recently proposed RhodeWorks, and I think it is a smart approach to fixing Rhode Island’s crumbling roads and bridges.

It makes sense to act now because action is already overdue. Fifty-six percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, which is unacceptable. And the longer the state delays work on bridges that have deteriorated from bad to worse, the more expensive it becomes to repair them.

Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks will provide dollars to invest in the state’s infrastructure by charging a user fee to large commercial trucks. In this way, Rhode Island will catch up to what many others are already doing: The Federal Highway Administration allows this, nearly every other state in the region already does it, and nationwide, over 70 percent of states charge user fees to trucks.

On a trip from Maryland to Maine along Route 95, trucks pay $182 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and $114 to cross the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to New York. Other states have adopted this revenue model because heavier trucks cause a disproportionate amount of damage to roads. Essentially trucks are already paying for needed road repairs in many other states, and Rhode Island is looking to join that trend.

RhodeWorks also proposes borrowing money to fund infrastructure work, and uses the revenue from the user fees to pay back the loan. Around the country, this is another popular way to finance road and bridge work. It is a good investment for the state to act now while raw materials are inexpensive and interest rates are low. Now is a smart time to make these critical investments.

Collecting user fees from large commercial trucks and using user fee revenue to finance borrowing are proven approaches to infrastructure investment. But the RhodeWorks plan is also innovative. Unlike other states, Rhode Island is proposing to assess user fees only on large commercial trucks — with no fees for passenger cars. This addresses the fact that large commercial trucks cause significantly more road and bridge damage than cars do.

Infrastructure investment also puts our friends and neighbors to work, and RhodeWorks would create thousands of jobs and provide a much-needed boost to the state’s economy.

Infrastructure is too important to our quality of life, our public safety, our economic competitiveness, and job creation to delay action any longer. Governor Raimondo should be applauded for considering a creative approach to addressing the state’s serious transportation challenges.

Ray LaHood was U.S secretary of transportation from 2009 to 2013 and is co-chair of Building America’s Future, a coalition of bipartisan former and current elected officials dedicated to raising awareness about national infrastructure challenges.

Source: The Providence (RI) Journal