Kenneth M. Bianchi
on behalf of Rhode Island DOT Watch
before the Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate
Warwick, Rhode Island
April 21, 1997

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to appear before you today to discuss the need to both protect and strengthen the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act or ISTEA.

I am Kenneth Bianchi, the Town Administrator for the Town of North Smithfield, Rhode Island. I also serve a Vice President of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns and am a Board member of the nonprofit Rhode Island DOT Watch.

Let me just first say to Senator Chafee, if I may, that we in Rhode Island know and care about what you're doing and saying on ISTEA both here at home and especially down in Washington, DC and we couldn't be happier knowing how supportive and understanding you are about an issue that every Rhode Islander cares deeply about. I don't need to tell you, senator, that in this pending congressional battle we here in Rhode Island have far more to lose than just money, so thank you for continuing to do such an excellent job representing our best interests.

Here in Rhode Island, ISTEA reauthorization has generated tremendous interest among both citizens and local governments who have to live with the consequences of a national program. Mr. Chairman and other members of the committee, I would lake to submit for the record, and the benefit of all the members of this committee, a document entitled, "A Blueprint for ISTEA Reauthorization". This detailed platform was put together by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a national public interest coalition of more than 200 groups including our own Rhode Island DOT Watch and Rhode Island Sierra Club.

Mr. Chairman, over 40 groups and agencies in Rhode Island have fully endorsed all 25 recommendations in this platform as outlined in the attached addendum. That's about three-quarters of the population of the state right there! But seriously, I couldn't be more impressed by such solid support for a proposal from such a diverse group of people. This is a testament to the success of ISTEA, to its spirit of partnership, and to its significance for all the people that live and work in this state. And we fully recognize that the "ISTEA Reauthorization Act of 1997" which you have cosponsored and was introduced last week by 32 senators, supports many of these recommendations and again we thank you for your leadership.

The bottom line is that ISTEA reauthorization must build on the obvious successes of the existing law. We realize that there are divisive issues to be worked out regarding the funding formula, and obviously we believe that Rhode island must continue to get its fair share based on the substantial needs, particularly those of our aging infrastructure, for such a small state. But regardless of how the congress settles its differences over money, we urge you to preserve the part of the law that has been a success nationwide: ISTEA's policies and programs.

Specifically, we urge the retention and strengthening of the CMAQ program, the transportation enhancements program, the Interstate Maintenance and Bridge repair programs, the 10% safety set aside, which we hope will begin to include measures to reduce the 6,000 annual pedestrian deaths nationwide, and the suballocation of funds to metropolitan areas. we also hope that ISTEA's partnerships with local government officials and citizens will be strengthened through the MPO process and retention of planning factors to include the public early and often throughout the transportation planning process.

Let me give you an example of how ISTEA has worked in Rhode Island (Woonsocket River Island Park and Main Street Enhancement Projects, the Restoration of the Kingston Railroad Station, the Quonset Point Third Rail, the Blackstone River Bikeway Access Project in Lincoln, Rhode Island, and the Newport Gateway Center, Bus Station and Ferry Terminal). This has had a positive effect not only environmentally but will have a direct impact on economic development in the creation of quality jobs for our citizens.

But Rhode Island is in desperate need of a stronger ISTEA. One that will emphasize road and bridge maintenance; as outlined in the STPP Blueprint, we believe we need a "Fix it First" program that prioritizes system preservation. here in Rhode Island, we have 750 bridges, 55% in poor or mediocre condition and 57% of our roadways in poor or mediocre condition. In a recent University of North Carolina/Charlotte study on overall highway conditions, the State of Rhode Island ranked last for the year ending 1995. Let me just say, it is incomprehensible that these STEP 21 STARS 2000 proposals in Congress would eliminate the Bridge Repair and Interstate Maintenance programs. These are good government programs that ensure accountability to taxpayers they must be retained in the next ISTEA.

we also need an ISTEA that will allow us the flexibility to spend our highway funds on Amtrak, a choice our state DOT currently our highway funds on Amtrak, a choice our state DOT currently lacks; we need an ISTEA that will allow us to protect our environment by reducing automobile and diesel emissions and curtailing road runoff all of which have a dramatic impact on the health of every Rhode Islander as well as the Narragansett Bay; one that will allow us to pursue sensible alternatives to single occupancy vehicles by improving our public transit system, providing commuter rail service south of Providence and restoring water ferries throughout the Bay; and one will allow tourism, one of our most vital economic engine to flourish throughout the state without clogging our roadways and ruining the very thing that people come here for in the first place.

In closing, let me just reiterate: ISTEA been a success. It has started to provide us with real choices, better protection of the environment and more local control over transportation programs. But it is also still in its infancy. whatever differences need to be worked out over funding formula, we urge this committee to protect the principles and framework established by ISTEA in 1991.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for your attention and courtesy and let me say again how grateful we are here in Rhode Island to be able to rely on your vision and leadership in the U.S. Congress on this issue. I will be happy to answer any questions you or any other member. of the Committee may have.