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Gaming the System

Transportation geeks and environmentalists should unite behind a new group I've just encountered: Keep Hopkinton Country (Twitter @keepHopkinton). The group exists to fight a $12 million proposal for a 500 space parking lot and rest stop center in rural Hopkinton, just off of I-95.

Get your blood pressure meds and your yoga breath out. This is going to get you angry.

RIDOT is asking Rhode Island taxpayers to pay $3 million of the project, with another $9 million requested from the federal government. Keep Hopkinton Country offers some great arguments for why this project is a huge boondoggle at their website. Let me offer some of my own:

Hopkinton is extremely rural: around 8,000 residents living at under 200 per square mile, according to the metrics found on its Wikipedia page. It's 36 miles from Downtown Providence, when you type it into Google Maps, which any good Rhode Islander can tell you is a product of a very diagonal trip: the state at its widest point is only 37 miles wide, and that includes a lot of water in the middle. So this is boonies of the boonies territory.

With that in mind, Hopkinton clearly is not a location well served by transit. At all. Even if, by magic, 100% of rural Hopkinton-ers ditched their cars and took the bus to work (they all apparently work in Providence) everyday, this would come out to a very large amount of money spent per person for a long bus trip through otherwise fairly unpopulated territory.

On top of that, $12 million is twice the entire protected bike lane budget for the city of Minneapolis. And just to be clear on that point: the $6 million plan in Minneapolis is meant to be implemented over 10 years, so maybe I should say its twenty times the yearly protected bike lane budget. So in terms of cost-benefit for biking, this is rightly termed as the state's "most expensive bike rack" to nowhere.

What makes me so angry about this plan is that it is clearly a manipulation by RIDOT officials to support a project they started out wanting to build, rather than even an earnest mistake in the pursuit of genuinely good goals. There are times when honest people can disagree about what the best priorities are for transit and biking, but this is not one. RIDOT's process was "Hmm, let's build a giant parking lot and give a contract to our friends" and then "Hmm, where can we put the key words 'transit' and 'bike' in this plan to get the feds to give us free money?" Utterly disgusting. Fraud is the right word.

RIDOT already lost out a big grant it was hoping to use to rebuild the 6/10 Connector as a covered highway. The fact that the feds rejected that project shows that they're on to RIDOT's chicanery. Director Peter Alviti should learn his lesson and drop this project before he makes the agency look like a bunch of buffoons again.

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