“I’m frustrated and angry that my Republican colleagues are playing politics with such an important public safety issue,” Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) said in an interview at his office Friday afternoon. “It’s unacceptable to me.”
Langevin is referring to a group of House Republicans who he feels are taking an irresponsible and fragmented approach to funding for local transportation and infrastructure projects. He believes Rhode Island needs long-term legislation in order for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to move forward with projects in Warwick, Cranston and Johnston, including $1.5 million in potential traffic improvements to I-295 ramps along the Cranston/Johnston border and $1 million resurfacing on Post Road in Warwick from South Atlantic Avenue to Warwick Avenue.
To find a solution, Langevin has co-sponsored a two-year funding bill that recently passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support. He has urged House Republican leadership to bring the measure to a vote. A lapse in federal transportation funding, which is currently scheduled to expire in June, would delay construction on these projects.
The bill is waiting for a House vote and Langevin isn’t happy that certain House Republicans are taking their time with it. He said they are not only putting the projects at risk, but also impeding short-term job creation and jeopardizing transportation infrastructure required to support businesses that help to strengthen the economy.
“It’s foolishness,” Langevin said. “It’s a waste of time and a waste of effort. Some of my colleagues are clearly not interested in doing what’s right for our states and for our country. They’re playing political games with a very important infrastructure project. Speaker [John] Boehner is unable to lead properly and knows that if that bill would come to the floor, it would pass with Democratic and Republican votes. The problem is that if that were to happen, this right wing group would be, I believe, a serious threat to his speakership.”
According to Langevin, the Senate bill is expected to deliver more than $500 million in federal transportation funding to Rhode Island, supporting about 9,000 jobs statewide. Instead of taking up that bipartisan legislation, the House voted Wednesday on a 90-day funding extension that Langevin said threatens to prolong uncertainty for the construction industry, commuters, businesses and state and local governments. Langevin voted against the bill.
“I opposed it for a variety of reasons,” he said. “We can’t fund projects on a 90-day basis. These are things that take months and years to plan and the Department of Transportation can’t go to bid on a major project like road or bridge repair based on revenue that may or may not come in after that 90-day extension expires.”
Langevin said he thinks the state needs the longest possible extension. While he’d like to see a five-year extension, he’ll settle for the two-year bipartisan extension the Senate approved.
According to a report by Transportation 4 America, nearly 68 percent of Rhode Island roads are rated in poor or mediocre condition, and one in five bridges in the state are structurally deficient, which is the fourth highest of any state.
“If we don’t repair our roads and bridges and they have to be closed, that hurts our economy,” Langevin said. “We’re not moving goods and services around. It’s important long-term for our economy. These things cost money and the state does not have the money to do it on its own.”
Further, Langevin said a look at some of the bridges, especially the 6/10 connector, shows how desperately they need to be repaired. Nine of the 11 bridges that make up the 6/10 connector are approximately 50 years old, he said.
“The concrete pillars that are holding up the bridges are crumbling,” he said. “You can see where chunks of concrete have fallen from the bridges above. They are being supported by scaffolding to keep them in place, which is no way to have our citizens traveling. I hope to God it doesn’t take a bridge to collapse to get the right support for these measures. I’m fearful of that.”