A 2015 warning on the bridge, lawmakers to learn about AI, and Pryor on housing

Posted 4/24/24

School vacation week made for some swift journeys across the Washington Bridge.


As the state awaits a forensic review of what went wrong with the Washington Bridge, the …

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A 2015 warning on the bridge, lawmakers to learn about AI, and Pryor on housing


School vacation week made for some swift journeys across the Washington Bridge.


As the state awaits a forensic review of what went wrong with the Washington Bridge, the ProJo’s Patrick Anderson delivered a must-read story this week contextualizing how a report by AECOM raised serious concerns about the bridge in 2015 (and how issues had been cited years earlier). AECOM “re-evaluated the old beams they had raised red flags about and appear to have changed their tune” about three years later, Anderson reported. Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti defended the state’s response, asserting that the initial warning about the bridge was contradicted by other findings. However, considering the 2015 launch of RhodeWorks, the Raimondo-era program to upgrade bridges across the state, the lack of attention to a major thoroughfare such as the Washington Bridge led to the closing of the westbound bridge in December. Whether things might be different had action been taken sooner is unclear, as Anderson’s story reports. At the same time, it noted, RIDOT declined to answer questions about the history of structural concerns going back to AECOM’s 2015 report.


Since ascending to the post of Senate majority leader, the number two role in the chamber, Sen. Ryan Pearson (D-Cumberland) appeared to be the heir-apparent to one day succeed Dominick Ruggerio, the 75-year-old president of the Senate. Now, though, the future is less clear after Pearson made a recent visit to Ruggerio’s home. When Kathy Gregg delved into what happened, Pearson dismissed Statehouse chatter about this as “a bad and false rumor,” although Ruggerio told her that Pearson asked about his health “and signaled he would be interested in succeeding him.” Via statement, Ruggerio tells TGIF that he fully intends to seek re-election to the Senate in November, and if elected, to remain as Senate president. “While it is no secret that I have had some recent health challenges, I am undergoing treatment that is expected to fully resolve those challenges, and I feel better every day,” he said. Pearson offered this comment via email: “President Ruggerio and I had a private discussion last month at his home at my request. First and foremost, Dominick Ruggerio is a friend. I wanted to have a private conversation away from the state house to discuss his health. Unfortunately, a false rumor mill began to swirl after that meeting that has not served the president, myself or most importantly the chamber well. To be clear, during that meeting, I did not ask the President to step aside and stated I would support him in any decision he made about his future. We have important work to do and I am committed to doing it through the partnership President Ruggerio and I have had for many years. Our longstanding partnership is integral to the efficient functioning of our duties, and I am steadfast in upholding it.”


House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, House Majority Leader Chris Blazejewski (D-Providence) and state Sen. Hanna Gallo (D-Cranston) plan to head in the coming week to California for the State Legislative Leaders Foundation’s spring leadership summit, this time focused on artificial intelligence. According to the website for the event, “Everyone everywhere seems to be talking about artificial intelligence. Everyone has an opinion on whether it’s going to be the best thing since sliced bread or the worst thing to ever hit civilized society. SLLF and an internationally recognized faculty will present the facts and dispel the myths. We will discuss what it is, what it does and what it does not do. We will explore key policy concerns that both public and private sector leaders will need to deal with including privacy, ethics, misinformation and regulation. Join policymakers from across the nation on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California this spring to examine strategies being considered and implemented to address these concerns.”


U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is among a bipartisan group of senators who this week unveiled what they call the first congressional framework “to deal exclusively with the extreme risks posed by future developments in advanced AI models. The senators’ framework would establish federal oversight of frontier model hardware, development, and deployment to mitigate AI-enabled extreme risks from biological, chemical, cyber, and nuclear threats. As Congress considers how to approach new technology developments, the senators’ framework aims to prioritize the national security implications of AI while ensuring our domestic AI industry is able to develop and maintain an advantage over foreign adversaries. This framework is limited to frontier models – the most advanced AI models that are still yet to be developed.”


Considering how long the situation took to develop, making progress in expanding housing availability in Rhode Island is bound to be a long slog. Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor said his department is pursuing dialogue – “39 conversations in 39 places” – to better understand and overcome the opposition to more housing in some cities and towns. He did not express support for advocates’ wish to raise a $100 million housing ballot question to $150 million, planned by Gov. McKee for the November ballot. 

A few other highlights from our interview this week on Political Roundtable:

Pryor asserted that allocated money is moving into construction quickly enough, although about 400 housing units are under construction, one-quarter of the number financed through previously allocated federal funds. While 24,000 units has been cited as what’s required to move past the housing crisis, “That’s not an amount that we’re pinning ourselves on,” Pryor said.

As my colleague Nina Sparling has reported, advocates are concerned that the McKee administration lacks a concrete plan for countering the drying up of federal COVID aid that enabled the state to more than double the number of shelter beds since 2020. Pryor said the search is on for additional resources. (Advocates planned to deliver petitions to Gov. McKee Friday, underscoring how 1,560 people were living in shelters at the end of March, and 529 more outside – a number they say has doubled since 2019.)

Pryor, a longtime state official, declined to directly comment when asked what the Washington Bridge fiasco shows about the competence of state government.

A proposal for a public developer remains under consideration. Pryor says his office is looking at examples of existing models around the country and in places like Finland and Singapore.


Fourteen years after I broke the news of how a then-political unknown named Gina Raimondo was gearing up to run for state general treasurer, the Smithfield native’s star remains on the ascent, as seen by how she’s getting a closeup on 60 Minutes this weekend. 


Congrats to up-and-comer Raymond Baccari Jr., who has landed a gig as a digital content producer and assignment editor at WPRI-TV, Channel 12 … Laura Hart, a savvy veteran of state government, is formally moving from spokeswoman at the Department of Administration to become deputy comms chief for Gov. McKee. Also heading to the executive office is Reily Connaughton, most recently associate director of the state Office of Management and Budget. He will fill the senior advisor vacancy left by Chris Farrell’s move to Connecticut.


U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is a longtime booster of accountable care organizations or ACOs, defined as groups of providers that take responsibility for the cost and care of a group of patients. A new study prepared at Whitehouse’s request by the Congressional Budget Office finds that Medicare ACOs reduce healthcare costs, and with more provider participation, lead to more savings. “In particular,” according to a news release from Whitehouse’s office, “CBO found that ACOs centered on primary care resulted in the greatest savings while maintaining the highest quality of care. Ensuring providers have the right resources and incentives to join ACOs is essential to realizing the full benefits to patients and to the federal budget.” That jibes with the takeaway from Costa Rica, which has a longer typical life expectancy than in the U.S., thanks to an emphasis on prevention and primary care rather than management of disease. “Patients deserve high-quality and affordable health care,” Whitehouse said. “But for too long, the United States has spent more on health care per person than any other peer country, while the average life expectancy in this country has remained lower than that of many our peers. This new report from CBO confirms what I have been saying for years: that bolstering ACOs predicated on strong primary care and incentivizing providers to join these innovative care delivery models has the potential to transform our health care system and make it far more efficient. Ensuring that high-quality primary care is affordable and available to many more Americans improves health outcomes and lowers total health care spending. These are savings we can achieve with no benefit cuts.” (Disclosure: my wife works for an ACO.)


My colleague Olivia Ebertz has highlights from Providence Mayor Brett Smiley’s budget plan, including more money for education, police and three positions to keep storm drains clear.


With the exit of Scott Avedisian becoming complete this week, with $67,000 in severance, RI Transit Riders called for the selection of “a nationally respected transit professional as RIPTA’s next CEO — someone who is able to put good transit principles first while practicing open communications with riders and the public.”


Feeling overwhelmed by email and other digital errata? You’re not alone. This essay by Ezra Klein is well worth the read and this excerpt gives you a taste: “A few months ago, I euthanized that Gmail account. I have more than a million unread messages in my inbox. Most of what’s there is junk. But not all of it. I was missing too much that I needed to see. Search could not save me. I didn’t know what I was looking for. Google’s algorithms had begun failing me. What they thought was a priority and what I thought was a priority diverged.”

Donnis, politics


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