Rep. Lauren H. Carson is calling on the Transportation Advisory Committee to put the brakes on a Department of Transportation proposal to spend $748 million in funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds while ignoring its legal responsibility to adhere to the Act on Climate.
The Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), which advises the State Planning Council on transportation planning, has been asked to meet Thursday to take action on a “Minor Amendment” to the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). This so-called “minor amendment” is 487 pages long and consists of 152 project changes that would spend $748 million of the new federal funding.
The proposal from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) appears to pay little heed to the mandate included in the Act on Climate, sponsored by Representative Carson and adopted by the General Assembly last year. The new law mandates that the state reduce all climate emissions from transportation, buildings and heating, and electricity used economy-wide to hit several benchmarks, eventually reaching net-zero by 2050. The law requires that all state agencies work in accordance to those goals, using the act to guide relevant planning.
“The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to Rhode Island’s carbon emissions, accounting for fully one-third of our carbon output. Obviously, we expect RIDOT to be one of, if not the most important state agency in terms of leading our carbon-reduction efforts. It’s unacceptable that RIDOT would not only put forward, but actually fast-track a plan that just perpetuates the status quo of more highways, with little to no effort to move our state toward the carbon-neutral future we need to slow deadly climate change,” said Representative Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport).
Critics of the plan say it underfunds public transportation and clean alternatives such as bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, fails to fund the state’s Transit Master Plan or Bicycle Mobility Plan, and that it also ignores federal guidance instructing state transportation departments to use their funding to achieve climate, equity, safety and economic progress through more multi-modal projects and less emphasis on expanding highways.
As a minor amendment, rather than a major amendment, RIDOT’s plan is fast-tracked, with no public hearing, and only 10 days for online public comments.
“People in Rhode Island want roads and bridges to be paved and safe. I share that sentiment, and support improving our infrastructure. However, the time is now to implement Act on Climate, and all future projects need to be evaluated through that lens. I am calling on RIDOT to appraise all projects with the clear mandate of carbon reduction,” said Representative Carson. “The infrastructure funds were intended to help advance the country toward the future, not simply to cover more of our land with asphalt. RIDOT and the TAC should send this proposal back to the drawing board,” said Representative Carson.
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