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GOVERNING Magazine: Remove the 6/10 Connector


GOVERNING Magazine is one of those journals that's so staid and small-c conservative in its voice, that it makes the New York Times look like Vice Magazine.
What’s a little different about the drama in Providence is that for a brief time the urbanists appeared to be winning the battle. This spring, Rhode Island’s state transportation director, Peter Alviti Jr., declared that the replacement of the 6/10 connector was “a singular opportunity, something that comes along once in a lifetime. We can take a vital piece of land and redesign it into something that suits the needs of all stakeholders.”
As for simply rebuilding the highway, Alviti called that “really, no plan” at all. But the state didn’t exactly buy the idea of turning the 6/10 into a leafy boulevard, either. It instead came up with an intriguing hybrid proposal: Replace the road with a tunnel and cover the tunnel with a large green canopy that could accommodate not only cars but also bike lanes and perhaps a bus rapid transit line. The city’s planning director praised this scheme as “a strong landscape strategy to create a memorable urban experience.”
Then the whole deal began to fall apart. In July, the federal government turned down the state’s request for $175 million to help pay for the project. A few weeks later, the Federal Highway Administration reported that parts of the connector, especially its overpasses, were in even worse shape than previously thought. “The deterioration of the bridges is accelerating,” Alviti told the governor, “and therefore immediate action is needed.” At that point Raimondo called a halt to the design process and simply ordered the 6/10 to be rebuilt in its current form.
Some of the urban activists didn’t buy the safety argument. They speculated that the governor had given in to the political demands of the “concrete coalition” of unions, traffic engineers and construction companies. “It’s electorally important for her to get construction workers on her side,” says James Kennedy, a widely respected environmentalist blogger. “If you’re a construction worker, you’re just thinking of what’s the next concrete project we can build.”
Governor Gina Raimondo has a choice to make: does she want to continue being governor? I'm not saying that to be nasty. I'm actually really concerned. Because Gov. Gina Raimondo, at times, on certain issues (like refugee rights or the Earned Income Tax Credit) has been a capable administrator, but her attitude towards environmental justice seems to be steamrolling over people. Many villages of northwest Rhode Island that went very squarely for Bernie Sanders after he stood against fracking are places the governor is fighting with over LNG-- and those parts of the state went strongly for Trump. It isn't to say that I don't think average Democrats would drag themselves out of bed for the next gubernatorial election to prevent someone like Patricia Morgan from taking power, but as with Hillary Clinton's candidacy, the real danger is a depressed vote. As with Hillary Clinton, it won't just be petulant white environmentalists who the governor should worry about, but working class people of color, whose need to live in a neighborhood that is healthy is being completely overlooked by RIDOT and Gov. Raimondo's office. In places like Detroit, people who decided to vote for no one cost Hillary Clinton the election.

And on the other side of things, it's quite clear that lots and lots of people on the right would be un-bothered or even enthusiastic to see the 6/10 Connector removed. People like Minority Leader Brian Newberry, recently-retired Rep. Dan Reilly, and even staunch rightwing figures like Mike Stenhouse and Justin Katz. In Speaker Mattiello's Cranston district, he faced a close challenge by Republican Stephen Frias, who though not campaigning on the 6/10 Connector itself, challenged the toll plan that is going overwhelmingly to that plan. It speaks volumes that months ago, when Dep. Director Peter Garino gave his biased report on 6/10, that the biggest audience that turned out to speak against rebuilding the 6/10 Connector was one organized by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

So what is there to gain? It's like attacking the progressive base while giving nothing to Republicans.

I do not relish in my prediction that Gov. Raimondo is putting herself in electoral peril. I would not like to see someone like Rep. Patricia Morgan become governor, because we need someone in office who will stand up to the overt racism of the Trump administration. But voters need something to vote for, not just something to vote against. Gov. Raimondo must learn this lesson.

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