I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the reauthorization of ISTEA, and it is a particular pleasure to have this chance to publicly thank Senator Chafee for his leadership in enacting ISTEA the first time and for the active and effective support Senator Chafee and his staff have given in making this law work in Rhode Island.
Historic Preservationists have known for a long time that the impacts of transportation projects extend way beyond the edge of pavement. Many people in the historic preservation movement believe that over the last 40 years, probably no federal program has been more destructive to America's historical and archaeological resources than highway construction. Thousands of buildings and sites have been sacrificed to construction of interstate highways and widening of local roads. Even when individual landmarks have been spared, too often transportation projects have ripped the fabric of community life by isolating neighborhoods, destroying scenic beauty, and encouraging the development of ugly commercial strips. Whether justly or not, transportation projects are frequently accused of contributing to visual pollution, urban sprawl, and the undermining of America's historic city cores and rural villages.
Here in Rhode Island, the odds are good that transportation projects will affect a historic building or archaeological site because we have so many historic resources. We are a small state in land area, but we have the highest density of historic properties in the United States. Today's highways follow the course of early roads laid out centuries ago, and historic districts in our towns generally developed along early roads. Projects which widen, straighten, realign, or reconstruct these roads can destroy individual historic buildings and can leave an ugly scar through the heart of historic neighborhoods.
ISTEA addresses these problems in several positive ways which add to and improve upon the previous regulatory framework. The emphasis ISTEA gives to community-based planning and public participation improves the chances that broad community concerns will be satisfied. Furthermore, ISTEA offers new flexibility in the design of transportation projects. The use of approved design exceptions or alternate design standards allows state DOTs to correct deficiencies in existing roads without the disruption and environmental and economic cost of full reconstruction.
I am proud to report that during the last four years, the State Historic Preservation Office which I head and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation have had an effective working partnership. I know many men and women working in the RI DOT who have welcomed the opportunities which ISTEA provides. On scores of projects, we have identified important historical properties, and with input from the local residents we have developed highway construction plans which avoid damage to those cultural and community resources. In several cases, we and the DOT have collaborated on historic preservation projects, such as restoration of Bellevue Avenue which is lined by Newport's famous historic mansions and rehabilitation of Albion Bridge, a 19th-century iron truss bridge located in the Blackstone Valley. The increased flexibility which ISTEA offers makes it easier to incorporate historic preservation measures into projects than previously.
One of the most important ISTEA programs to deal with community-wide impacts of transportation is Enhancements. Four years ago, Rhode Island established an Enhancements Committee to review proposals for this new category of funding. The Committee, which I chair, has seen how many ways transportation relates to the life of our state's communities. The eleven members of the Committee have a broad range of backgrounds, including historical preservation, environmental conservation, local government, passenger rail, tourism, planning, and transportation.
Our committee developed an open and broad-based process for selecting projects based on objective criteria. It is evident that the Enhancement program meets a need felt by many Rhode Islanders. The extent of public interest is demonstrated by the large number of applications and the creativity of individual proposals. We received 197 proposals, representing nearly every city and town, many non-profit organizations, and individual citizens. The 46 projects finally selected by the Committee deal with the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists, will help to protect water quality, save open space, preserve historic resources, eliminate visual blight, and make neighborhoods and civic centers more attractive.
Here are four examples of Rhode Island Enhancement projects:
* In Providence, Mathewson Street crosses the Downtown Historic District and connects the Performing Arts center with our new convention center. An Enhancement project rebuilt Mathewson Street with amenities appropriate to a historic area in order to encourage use by pedestrians as well as cars and support the marketing of our performing arts and convention centers.
* In Westerly, an Enhancement project is restoring the rundown historic railroad station for continued rail-passenger service. The restored station will support efforts for downtown commercial revitalization and become an intermodal transportation center.
* In Woonsocket, an Enhancement project is "piggy-backing" on reconstruction of traffic circulation through historic Market Square to create an attractive civic space and an intermodal link for automobiles, the Blackstone Valley bikeway, and pedestrian walkways. With the opening of a museum of labor and heritage, the "new" Market Square will become a cultural destination within the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor.
* In Lincoln, an Enhancement project will preserve the Great Road Historic District. Great Road, which dates to the 1680s, is a designated Scenic Road and part of a National Register Historic District. However, as RI Route 123 it is still an active highway. Enhancement funds will construct a walkway between several historic sites so that pedestrians are not forced to walk on the narrow road shoulders. In addition, six acres of open land will be purchased adjacent to Rhode Island's oldest house. The purchase will protect the setting of the 1687 Eleazer Arnold House Museum and forestall development of a commercial mall which would have overloaded the traffic capacity of Great Road.
Rhode Island's Enhancement projects show a variety of ways that transportation projects can accommodate and reinforce the values of the surrounding community and the natural environment.
In a state as small as Rhode Island, we do not have any scenery to waste--but we do have many beautiful roads. Some scenic roads pass through pastoral farmlands or historic villages, and other scenic roads have breath-taking views of Narragansett Bay and the ocean. Our state's Scenic Roadways Board, of which I am Vice Chairman, is working to identify and protect Rhode Island's most scenic roads and byways. An ISTEA grant funded a preliminary statewide inventory of scenic roads and also development of alternative highway design standards for designated scenic roads. This two-part grant project allows our Board to define the significant scenic elements of Rhode Island roads and to work with our DOT in making sure that needed highway construction does not unnecessarily damage or destroy a road's scenic quality. ISTEA funding and design flexibility are the essential ingredients in this project.
Another ISTEA grant is allowing the Scenic Roadways Board to write "corridor management plans" for several of our designated roads. We recognize that highway construction activities are not the only potential threats to preserving scenic qualities. Property-owners and local government have crucial roles in deciding what land-use and development is compatible with a scenic road. These corridor management plans will help to guide future changes along particular roads, and they will serve as models for the development of plans for additional corridors.
It should be clear by now that I am an enthusiastic advocate for reauthorization of ISTEA and for retaining the Enhancements and Scenic Byways programs as discrete funded elements of the overall program. The biggest frustration I have had with ISTEA has been the length of time and extent of administrative requirements which must be completed in order to implement relatively small Enhancements projects. I recommend that a review be conducted to determine whether streamlining and more administrative flexibility is possible.
Unfortunately, there are many more good ideas than dollars. In terms of overall transportation funding, Enhancements and Scenic Byways represent a tiny fraction of federal aid. However the individual projects they fund and the principles they establish are key to the ongoing process of "reinventing" the national transportation system to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.
My experiences with ISTEA over the last four years have made it clear that many citizens want a transportation system that does more than build new roads and widen existing ones. The common thread that runs through all of these different programs is that transportation relates to many aspects of community life. It is impossible not to be impressed by the energy and creativity which citizens have shown in proposing ways to enhance our transportation system. It is clear that people want the system to be better, and they have good ideas about how to achieve it. We must continue the good beginning which ISTEA has made.