Federal transportation officials will settle Rhode Island’s latest city-versus-suburbs infrastructure debate.
On one side is the city of Providence, which is asking for $39 million in federal help to build a streetcar line from College Hill to the hospitals in upper South Providence.
On the other side is the R.I. Department of Transportation, which is asking for $10 million from the same federal grant program to rebuild the highway system around Warwick’s Apponaug village.
Both requests seek to complete long-sought quality-of-life and economic-development projects, but their respective locations and focuses – city mass transit and suburban roads – have cast them in the larger conversation about reducing the country’s reliance on cars.
Although theoretically both projects could be funded out of the $474 million Congress has provided for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (or TIGER) grants in fiscal 2013, the combined $49 million would be more than 10 percent of the nationwide total, which most think would be a lot for such as small state.
Providence has previously received TIGER grants to buy harbor cranes at ProvPort and Quonset Business Park, and for repairs to the Interstate 95 viaduct.
Supporters of both new projects have been careful not to put them in opposition to one another, except for Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, a Warwick resident who chose to throw the state’s support behind the Apponaug Circulator.
Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger said the governor didn’t support both projects because federal officials made it clear states needed to prioritize.
“The state received a clear signal from the feds that [projects] should be shovel ready and the state should say what its priorities are,” Hunsinger said. “The streetcar is a concept, and an interesting one, but it is not ready to go, not shovel ready.”
Providence planners have completed multiple studies looking at a streetcar since 2009, including the detailed Core Connector study that laid out the current route, which has been approved by the R.I. Public Transit Authority.
Asked for specifics on why the streetcar was not shovel ready, Hunsinger declined to go into detail, but pointed to “financing.” She added that if the federal government does choose to fund the streetcar, “the governor would be supportive” to make sure the state can take advantage.