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Great Island Perfect Example of What's Wrong with RI Transportation.

Point Judith is currently a parking crater because of poor 
transportation and land use planning.
I'm interrupting the regularly scheduled reminiscences on my hometown to come back to the subject of Rhode Island, and talk about the lack of debate going on about the highway trust fund. We basically have two sides: the rightwing says "let it burn", and the "left" (if you can call it that) says "keep things the same". Both sides are being fiscally irresponsible, and both sides are being inequitable, so neither is really supporting the core ideals of right or left. The Rhode Island congressional delegation belongs to the "keep it the same" camp, and is pushing an effort to fund the highway trust fund so that we can continue to road build in much the same silly way that we always have. 

I give you Great Island Road, Narragansett.

Great Island Road is a local bridge to low density housing near Point Judith. The Rhode Island congressional delegation has been celebrating the work being done to fix the Great Island Road Bridge using federal highway trust fund money. To me, Great Island Road is emblematic of what's wrong with the trust fund.

First, this is a local road. It's as local as it gets. It serves a residential-only area, carrying no through traffic at all. There's no reason for federal funding to be supporting this. In general I would say some kind of tolling makes more sense for roads. On this one, I might even go as far as to say that property taxes are the best way to recover the cost of the bridge, because the users of the bridge are generally the same exact people as the owners and renters in the homes. But in any case, the cost of the bridge should be localized. Having used federal funds to fix this bridge, we should now find a way to recover that money through some kind of local charges, and pass that funding into better transit for the area.

Other roads and bridges around this area carry more traffic, but supporting them through the trust fund doesn't make sense either. Point Judith is now a huge parking crater due to the number of cars that come to it during the summer months, but in the fall and winter, and even into early spring, the Point is desolate. Route 66 of RIPTA runs to meet the ferry, but is very infrequent. Having a localized Route 66 along with tolling on the bridges would make sense as a way to pay the costs of the road infrastructure, reduce car use, and help to support more frequent transit. 

By a "localized" 66 I mean focused on South County. The 66 currently runs roughshod all over the state to get between Point Judith and Providence, but doesn't serve any particular point efficiently because it tries to serve everywhere--including many rural and exurban locations poorly suited for transit. It's long route also makes it impossible to run frequent service between denser points of interest. URI students have a notorious problem of getting into DUI related incidents, and I know from having worked on the Block Island Ferry as a bartender that a good number of the people getting off the boat are not in their best condition to drive. It makes more sense to have a ten minute frequency bus hitting only a few points--Peacedale, Wakefield, URI, and the train station--from Point Judith, rather than having a bus that snakes through parking lots, trying to carry service into West Greenwich and Warwick before going to Kennedy Plaza. Service to Providence would be better organized through the MBTA station at Kington, which should be the last stop for a viable 66. With frequency, this transfer won't be a problem.

Another important change should be putting better bike access onto Route 108. As a dauntless biker, I commuted each day along 108 to work, but many would not. The route is far too wide for its low usage during most of the year, and is only full of cars and congested in the summer due to poor transportation and land use planning. In the winter the existing Kingston Bike Path should be plowed and salted. 108 could certainly get protected bike lanes to help to remove many drivers from the road. The current excuse for not salting and plowing the Kingston Bike Path is that it would harm marshes, but this has the same ring to it that not putting bike racks at the Statehouse in order to protect the "historic character" of the sidewalks has. We plow and salt the large stroads we've built through this community, and the salt ends up in the wetlands through runoff. We should do what we can to make year-round biking comfortable.

I understand that the Tea Party's "let it burn" attitude toward the country is destructive, but the Democratic "stay the course" route on the highway trust fund isn't good enough. And Great Island Road should be an example of why. Rhode Island's delegation in Congress generally has the right positions on environmental concerns when they're specifically targeted, but somehow they continued to not understand the interactions of other things (like road spending) with these policies. There's an irony to Sen. Whitehouse's celebration in particular. Just as I pointed out in a previous post, the senator tells us each week to 'wake up' about climate change, and then is constantly rushing the door to support whatever road project he can. 

The appetite for cognitive dissonance is amazing.


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