STATE HOUSE — Rep. Teresa Tanzi is urging the State Planning Council to reject a proposed amendment to the state’s 10-year transportation spending plans that would slash funding for bicycle and pedestrian traffic improvements.
The council is scheduled to vote on the change, known as Amendment #19, at its meeting Thursday morning.
“Rhode Islanders have been very vocal in their opposition to this shift in our plans for our transportation resources. Of the comments submitted during the public comment period for this amendment, over 200 were opposed to it, and fewer than a dozen were in favor of it. We absolutely should not be back-peddling on efforts to make our state more walkable and bike-friendly,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), who has long been a strong advocate for bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects.
The amendment would cut the Transportation Alternatives Program, which funds bike and pedestrian access projects, by $37 million under the plan, shifting dollars toward fixing roads and bridges. Department of Transportation officials have defended the move by pointing toward the state’s status as having the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the nation.
Representative Tanzi said she recognizes the importance of repairing the state’s crumbling bridges — pointing to the fact that she voted in favor of the administration’s RhodeWorks plan to implement those fixes, even knowing how unpopular the plan was. But the state, which recently received hundreds of millions in federal grant funding for transportation infrastructure improvements, can, in fact, address bicycle and pedestrian projects and roads and bridges at the same time, she said.
“Our State Planning Council is responsible for looking at the big picture, and they must recognize that focusing on only the immediate problems facing our state is how we got into the current mess. We must look at every dollar we spend and see how it can solve two or more problems at once. Investing in wider roads only compounds the issues we, as a coastal state, face with climate change. These investments must serve our state’s long term needs: a healthier environment, coastal resilience, a healthier populace, stronger communities and better infrastructure. Our residents deserve it, our employers demand it, and we should be providing it,” said Representative Tanzi.
“Our current statewide plan should promote opportunities for creating advantages, and we should not go back in time and shift our resources away from the effort to make alternative transportation a more viable option for all Rhode Islanders,” she said. “We must invest in public transit and transportation alternatives if we want to compete with larger cities to attract and maintain an educated and heathy workforce. Passing this amendment foolishly puts the blinders back on, and closes off a real opportunity to use our tax dollars more effectively. We must not allow this to happen.”