Created to generate potential solutions to the Sakonnet River Bridge tolling controversy, the East Bay Bridge Commission – which is due to make recommendations in less than a month – should take this opportunity to deal comprehensively with all of the state’s transportation infrastructure needs.
The R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority estimates that its capital costs over the next decade for the four bridges it controls total $276.8 million in constant 2012 dollars.
According to the R.I. Department of Transportation, it currently spends $40 million per year (along with a federal match of $200 million) on capital projects.
In order to bring the state’s roads and bridges up to good working order, however, another $80 million per year would have to be spent in the next decade. And that number does not include the estimated $500 million it is expected to cost to replace the Providence viaduct, for a total of about $2 billion over the next decade (in actual costs, not including finance charges).
The commission needs to recommend a number of things. First, any proposed funding solution must be analyzed to see what effects it would have on the state economy.
Second, the creation of a public/private infrastructure bank must be studied, with a clear, dedicated revenue stream to cover the indebtedness that would result.
And last, effectiveness of using the state gasoline excise tax must be examined. Should all of the proceeds of the tax go to infrastructure investments (as opposed to helping fund transit – and thus, what to do about transit)?
The one thing this issue has been missing is the sense of urgency that drove the pension-reform process. Delays in confronting the issue only drive the ultimate costs higher. •