Rhode Island’s roads are in bad shape. Drive around and you’re bound to hit major potholes, thanks to a viscous winter. The American Society for Civil Engineers confirms our suspicions about the poor state of our roads. In its most recent infrastructure report card, it indicated that 57% of the states bridges are structurally deficient, that 68% of the states roads were rated as poor, and that vehicle travel on the state’s highways have increased nearly 25% between 1990 and 2007. This points to the need for major investments.
The Coalition for Transportation Choices, a group of local organizations and companies, has been developed to advocate for investment in the state’s dilapidated transportation infrastructure. However, the organization doesn’t simply seek to mend potholes; it seeks to channel investments into transportation systems, such as light rail, rapid bus service, commuter rail, and bike systems, that reduce the state’s dependence on oil and have minimal environmental and public health impacts.
The notion of implementing more sustainable transportation systems is catching on. Recently, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority recently completed the construction of a new line from Providence to TF Green airport. The new TF Green train station, dubbed the Interlink, creates one of the closest air to rail links in the country.
The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) recently completed its Providence Metropolitan Transit Enhancement Study, which called for increased bus service, development of rapid bus service lines, and, most importantly, a light rail system in Providence connecting the city’s hospitals to College Hill, a plan dubbed meds to eds. The light rail system, according to the study, would create near term economic stimulus and long term mixed use development opportunities. With the relocation of I-195, this plan may be critical in making the redevelopment of newly opened land successful. Light rail cars haven’t operated in Providence since 1948, when cars ran between College Hill and Downtown.
The opportunity to develop innovative, multimodal transporation systems is evident here in Rhode Island, due to its small size and high population density. The drivers are there as well: gas prices continue to increase and the need for efficient transportation systems that have minimal environmental impact and reduce our energy demand will only grow.
Future investments in transportation will need to be guided by a broader outlook, one that includes non-automobile modes. As the CTC envisions, the future transporation system will allow residents to walk, bike, or take transit to where they need to go. This vision may not be pie in the sky; it may be critical to forging a sustainable economy here in Rhode Island.