September 30, 2014
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Spending so much on a sure thing?
John Hazen White, Jr.

It’s that time of the year again, the dog days of summer, and that means three short columns for the price of one.

The Construction Boom Ahead for Providence: Construction firms across the board and across the nation have taken a beating in the Great Recession, and that slowdown affects all the tradespeople that construction firms hire to get the jobs done – everyone from consulting engineers to steel erectors to masons and plumbers. During the past year construction employment remained stagnant or actually declined in a host of metro areas, including the Providence-Warwick metro area. Many construction tradespeople have had to subsist on unemployment and union assistance in these lean times.
Here in Rhode Island, firms have engaged in a fierce contest for the few projects that have gone ahead – most of them coming out of higher education institutions and a rare project like my firm’s building expansion and office renovation. Even the big boys, like Gilbane which has largely left its home state for major work elsewhere, are eyeing the local landscape for whatever projects they can capture, and no project is as big as the I-195 Redevelopment project which is still in the planning stages.
This 30-acre project will be the largest land redevelopment undertaking since moving the rivers and building the mall in the 1970s-80s. The recaptured land for the so-called “Knowledge District” will expand the capital city’s footprint and further expand our medical, life sciences and educational capabilities and employment. When groundbreakings take place, the construction firms and associated trades will enjoy a long overdue building bonanza.

Why Spend So Much on a Sure Thing? Twin Rivers’ owners are spending a bundle on TV and radio ads in support of the upcoming referendum on adding table games. The scenic TV spot is noteworthy for what it never shows, which is the grim reality inside the slots parlor. Instead it focuses on how beneficial it will be for the state to have the added revenue from blackjack and roulette tables. An outdoor source tells me that billboards on Route 95 will soon be appearing to oversize the message.
But why spend so much on such a sure thing? While I haven’t seen a recent poll on how the public feels about adding table games, it has to be overwhelmingly positive. This is not going to be a repeat of the Narragansett’s-Harrah’s battle and the West Warwick casino proposal. Rhode Islanders accept the fact that we’re in bed with the devil on gambling, so what added mischief is involved in adding table games? The referendum question will be approved by a strong margin – otherwise voters will be cutting their own throats.
As I wrote in my last column, the bigger issue facing the state is the looming danger posed by Massachusetts’ entry into casino gambling. Even though it won’t materialize until 2017, the thunderclouds can be seen on the horizon and the state needs to start planning for a significant drop in revenue that will have to be made up somehow.

$21 million for a Bike Path? RIDOT plans call for spending $21 million dollar on a bike and pedestrian bath across the 195 Washington Bridge at a time when the same agency is crying poverty when it comes to fixing dangerously weakened bridge spans and overpasses across the state. The bike path will extend the Easy Bay Bike Path across the bridge with a widened space that will accommodate bikers, joggers and walkers while providing new decorative lighting and benches.
Naturally, spending $21 million on such a small space for a small minority – when collapsing infrastructure is everywhere in the state (the critical Route 6/10 interchange is being held up in part by steel shoring and wood)- has raised some eyebrows and prompted a good deal of frustrated venting about “priorities.”
No kidding.


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