I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today and I will speak to you for a few minutes on a couple of key points. These points include:
-- provisions of the existing ISTEA Act that hopefully will be continued into the new Transportation Act.
-- transportation infrastructure and its importance to the economy of Providence, Rhode Island and southeastern New England.
-- the need for resources to properly invest in transportation infrastructure and the need for innovative financing to be part of that solution.
In addition, I will also discuss one project that is the most critical transportation project in this State, the rebuilding of Interstate 195 and its intersection with Interstate 95.
First, The ISTEA Act that was approved in 1991 contains several concepts and principles that I recommend be continued under the new Act. These principles include the recognition that the link between land use and transportation is very strong and transportation planning needs to be part of an overall comprehensive planning effort. Also, ISTEA provides for a stronger role of local governments in transportation planning, and ISTEA requires significantly more public involvement in transportation planning than its predecessors. Thus, ISTEA demands consideration to community needs and community plans. Finally, ISTEA recognizes the need for more transportation choices, be it by bus, by rail, by car, by foot, by bicycle or by boat. These are excellent principles that need to go forward into the new Transportation Act.
Second, in Rhode Island, the public sector has invested much in our transportation infrastructure. However, we continue to have significant transportation investment needs, both because of the growing role that Providence and Rhode Island are playing in the eastern New England economy and transportation network, and because of the aging of some of our infrastructure. Major investments have been made in our new airport terminal because of regional air transportation demands. The T. F. Green Airport in Rhode Island is now the second most heavily used airport in the eastern New England region. We are about to begin major freight improvement projects that will connect modern freight rail to the port facilities at Quonset Point along Narragansett Bay. Other examples include investments that have been made in our new Amtrak Train Station and facilities to promote more passenger rail. The use of mass transit in Rhode Island has increased dramatically since the ISTEA Act of 1991, thanks to support from the Federal government. We need to continue to create an even stronger mass transit system. Finally, our interstate highways are accommodating more and more traffic. In fact, the Intersection of I-95 and I-195 in the heart of Providence accommodates almost 250,000 vehicles a day, making it the second busiest Interstate interchange in New England. I-195 is the main highway link to southeastern Massachusetts, including Fall River, New Bedford and the Cape Cod area.
We are making investments. However, we need a new Federal Act that recognizes the need for major additional investments to move people and goods in a variety of different ways and in an efficient manner for a growing economy and a growing transportation center in eastern New England. It also needs to recognize the aging of our infrastructure, particularly some of our roads and bridges. In Rhode Island, many of our bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete and a high percent of the Federal highway mileage is in fair to poor condition. The most serious problem is I-195 in Providence which I will discuss later.
This leads me to the third point which is the level of Federal involvement and assistance in transportation infrastructure as well as the need for innovative financing techniques. I would strongly urge an increase in Federal investment in transportation. The Federal role in transportation financing dates back many many decades, and we need this type of involvement to move us into the 21st Century. We would advocate that more of the existing gas taxes and other highway fees, be applied to transportation infrastructure. In that regard, we strongly support the Highway Trust Fund Integrity Act as introduced by Senator Chafee and others as it would help accomplish this goal.
Mindful of the need for leveraging dollars, we are also very supportive of innovative financing programs, particularly the creation of public/private partnerships and the involvement of private sector economies into creating transportation infrastructure. For example, the design/build/finance model, is one that can have some applicability to transportation infrastructure. This may result in projects being constructed faster, more efficiently, and at less cost. I believe that the results of pilot projects throughout the United States have been generally positive.
Towards this end, we are very supportive of Senator Chafee's proposed legislation S. 275, the Highway Infrastructure Privatization Act, which would encourage partnerships across the country by allowing private sector access to tax-exempt bond authority for a select group of transportation projects.
We are supportive of recent changes in Federal law that provide for innovative financing mechanisms such as advance construction, phased funding, tapering Section 1012 Loans, and flexible non-Federal matching requirements. We are very supportive of the State Infrastructure Bank Program, and we hope that this gets expanded in order to provide the opportunity for more States to use this financing mechanism. In addition, we are in favor of exploring real estate tax incremental financing, aggressive value engineering to reduce costs, leasing portions of the existing rights-of-way where possible, and sale or lease of surplus right-of-way to help finance transportation projects.
Finally, let me say a few words about one project in RI that calls out for additional Federal funds as well as innovative financing. This project involves the reconstruction of Interstate 195 and its intersection with Interstate 95. As mentioned earlier, this area is the second busiest interchange in New England and truly serves interstate and regional highway users. This part of I-195 was actually designed and portions constructed in the early 1950's, preceding the 1956 Interstate Highway Act. It is a road built essentially on a series of bridges weaving through different neighborhoods close to downtown Providence. It was a road designed and built following criteria which have no relationship to today's criteria for locating and building Interstate highways and transportation infrastructure. For example, I-195's curves, weaves and narrow lanes result in accidents that are 50% higher than the norm for Interstate highways.
It is also a road that is falling down! If you had the time to view this road today, you would see a number of temporary steel supports to shore up the road up to make it safe - temporarily. While it may be safe at the moment, there is a need to completely reconstruct this road in the immediate future.
After six years of intense study following the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the spirit of ISTEA, a Record of Decision has been issued whereby the selected alternative is to relocate this section of I-195 slightly to the south of its current location and rebuild its interchange with
I-95. It was selected because this solution gives roadway travelers the only solution that meets current Interstate highway standards. It will reduce accidents significantly, reduce congestion and result in a better driving experience. At the same time, it will allow for improvements in bicycle and pedestrian movements and enhance water transportation opportunities. It provides for the restoration of a waterfront that was destroyed by highways and ramp construction in the 1950's. The new location removes the negative highway effects on two National Historic Register Districts and drastically reduces the negative effects on a third National Register District. These districts were decimated by highway construction in the 1950's. It will liberate valuable urban land in the core of the metropolitan area from highways, and allow for more parkland and sites for carefully planned redevelopment that reintegrates residential and business districts that were divided by the 1950's. Jobs, taxes, overall economic development, and improvements to quality of life will result.
The new location will also prevent a potential economic catastrophe that could result from massive traffic jams if one tried to rebuild the road in its current location. The new location and plan is in accordance with local desires and in accordance with the City of Providence's comprehensive plan.
We all know how expensive urban highway and infrastructure projects are. The original cost estimate for this project was $299,000,000. Through an aggressive value engineering/cost reduction process by Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the cost has been reduced by 30%. But still, certainly, Rhode Island should not bear the cost of this project alone. This project involves the replacement of aging infrastructure that is under severe physical stress. It is not a new Interstate Highway. It is the replacement of New England's second busiest Interstate Interchange using today's transportation, community development, and environmental standards, not the standards of 45 years ago. We recommend that this need is recognized by the Federal government and adequate Federal resources are allocated to get this needed job done.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. If you or your staff members would like additional information, I'd be more than happy to provide it. Thank you.