Before Michael Lewis was hired to run Rhode Island’s transportation system, he spent two decades working on Boston’s impressive and notorious Big Dig project. Keeping the Ocean State’s highways open and buses running isn’t as glamorous as the central-artery tunnel, but in its own way is just as challenging. With costs rising to maintain public transportation, a number of bridge projects due and gas-tax revenue flat, Lewis has embarked on the unpleasant job of seeking toll increases. If that weren’t enough, the state’s long-term vision and investment in extending commuter-rail service is again coming up against unpleasant fiscal realities.
PBN: The Interstate 95 Providence Viaduct Bridge has been in bad shape for some time. Who is going to pay to fix it and when should drivers expect construction to begin?
LEWIS: Over the last decade DOT has invested in major infrastructure improvements, including the I-Way in downtown Providence. … The next in line is the Providence Viaduct. Because of its structural condition, it needs to be replaced. That was recognized before I came here. We have developed the design and are ready to go out to bid later this year for the first stage.
Because of limited funds, we rely on federal funds and this project will take up most of what future federal funds we have. We need to do the project but because it is so large it limits what we can do throughout the state.
It is the primary reason we proposed tolling on I-95; that would be the primary source of revenue and ensure we never have another Pawtucket River bridge and viaduct problem again. Absent that, we have to find other ways to pay for the viaduct.
PBN: When you look out 20 years from now, how will Rhode Island be paying for its transportation infrastructure?