A line of vehicles waits on the Route 6/10 connector to get on I-95 North in Providence ion a Sunday afternoon in November 2023. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)
Misguided and unambitious.
That’s how Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha views the state Department of Transportation’s (RIDOT) preliminary Carbon Reduction Plan, which is supposed to be submitted to the federal government on Nov. 15. It’s a plan some transit and climate advocates have also criticized.
Neronha laid out his critiques in a seven-page comment letter his office released Thursday morning to RIDOT Director Peter Alviti. The letter was made public just as Peter Alviti chaired a board of directors meeting for the Rhode Island Public Transit Agency (RIPTA) at his department’s Providence office.
The AG contends RIDOT’s draft plan is vague on how it would reduce carbon emissions and instead proposes using $35.7 million in federal aid over the next five years for highway maintenance projects instead of enhancing public transit and creating more bike paths.
“As a lifelong Rhode Islander, I know climate change is already impacting our state’s people and natural environment,” Neronha said in a statement. “It is concerning, to say the least, when I see that RIDOT’s plan for critical federal dollars for carbon reductions fails to meet the moment — not only falling short of the goals we must meet, but suggesting a proposal at odds with the existing statewide plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Under the federal government’s bipartisan Infrastructure law passed in 2021, states are required to create a plan and submit it to the Federal Highway Administration by Nov. 15 in order to receive funding for implementation.
Neronha asked RIDOT to prioritize bike paths and expanding infrastructure for electric vehicles.
Alviti said after RIPTA’s meeting that the draft plan includes options for other modes of transit in addition to highway improvements.
He said the planned bridge replacement and repavement of Route 146, would include a dedicated lane for rapid bus service.
“It will actually increase the efficiency of the operations of this agency and shorten the travel time of commuters from Northern Rhode Island into the urban center of Providence,” Alviti said.
RIDOT’s plan claims highways projects will reduce carbon emissions by 10,530 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
The draft also includes $7.1 million toward bike path maintenance and $600,000 for sidewalks. That’s not enough, Neronha said.
Neronha echoed calls from climate and transit advocates for RIDOT to construct new bike and pedestrian paths “that could help more people replace some car trips.”
The AG said the plan failed to include existing carbon reduction measures such as those proposed by the Transit Master Plan (TMP). The TMP calls for shifting to cleaner transportation alternatives like frequent buses and light rail.
Alviti said RIPTA is responsible for the TMP, but has shelved it for the past three years.
“We don’t even have a schedule of the projects or a definitive expectation of their scope and cost,” he said. “Without any of those things, the Transit Master Plan will not happen.
Alviti pointed to a separate, called the State Transportation Improvement Program, which is overseen by RIDOT, which seeks to invest $9.5 billion over 10 years in highway and road repairs including new bridges and new pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.
“You can’t look at this one $35 million grant opportunity and see what we’re proposing as a reflection of a much bigger plan that we have,” Alviti said. “That plan will get us to meet the component of the climate act that Rhode Island DOT is responsible for.”
Creating transit-oriented infrastructure, Alviti said, is one small step to get more Rhode Islanders out of their cars. But to really make that happen, he said there needs to be a culture change.
“That is a personal decision,” he said.
What about public comment?
Neronha in his letter also blasted RIDOT for its timeline to allow public comment on its plan.
RIDOT submitted the 51-page carbon reduction plan to the state’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council in June, but did not become public until Oct. 3. That gave members of the public one month to provide feedback.
Public comment was closed Nov. 3.
“It was not a comprehensive enough review of the strategy sufficient for State agencies and stakeholders to weigh in,” Neronha wrote.
The public could comment via an online portal or in person at a September workshop or the Transportation Advisory Committee’s Oct. 26 meeting.
“A single 2.5-hour, in-person stakeholder workshop with a total of 21 participants primarily from state agencies is not public participation,” Neronha wrote.
Alviti said RIDOT’s final plan will incorporate public comments. Last week, a department spokesperson said there would be a separate report. The plan must be submitted to the federal government by Nov. 15.
“We’ll have the necessary provision in place to meet the requirements,” Alviti said.
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