No one enjoys sitting in traffic. The gridlock can be especially frustrating when it stems from roadwork. After all, the presence of “work zone” signs and hardhats means someone, somewhere, made a conscious choice to delay or re-route commuters.
Shining sun and rising temperatures mean more crews out on Rhode Island’s roads and bridges, and drivers are well aware that this year’s construction season is underway.
We understand the consternation of the many motorists who face disruptions in their travels – we are among them, after all. But we know, too, just how much attention our transit infrastructure needs – and we are heartened at the steps state leaders have taken to increase efficiency and reduce negative impacts for drivers in recent years.
It’s been four years since the emergency closure of the Park Avenue railroad bridge in Cranston threw an enormous political wrench into the charged debate over Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program. Now, with the program in place and the benefit of perspective, we believe the ambitious plan is working.
Raimondo and Peter Alviti, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, have long been open about the agency’s issues in years past.
“I think it’s fair to say the Department of Transportation, which I inherited, was in many ways dysfunctional,” the governor bluntly assessed during the RhodeWorks debate.
Alviti, during a recent meeting with our editorial staff, pointed to the ways the agency has grown and improved since then. That morning, he had kicked off the 2019 construction season – including 77 active projects with a combined cost of more than $715 million – in Johnston.
He spoke specifically of the cultivation of a “project manager culture” at the agency – essentially putting a single point person in charge of overseeing all aspects of any particular project.
“The person owns it, and they take a particularly personal interest in making sure that theirs is not the project that gets slammed in the press or has a traffic tie-up or that falls behind in the budget,” he said. “There’s ownership, and that’s a big difference.”
He also pointed to the adoption of an “asset management methodology” that takes a data-driven approach in maximizing the state’s return on investment when it comes to road projects. The result, he said, has been that more than 90 percent of projects are currently on time and on budget.
There are no perfect solutions, of course, and RIDOT’s approach will never be to everyone’s liking.
In recent days, the planned closure of a much-traveled bridge in Bristol for two months in the summer of 2020 drew the ire of the Providence Journal’s editorial page. Other pending projects – including the planned closure of the Park Avenue railroad bridge for three months next summer to allow for its complete replacement – will no doubt lead to significant headaches and backlash.
In other cases, however, the agency’s new approach will ease the impact. The Coronado Road railroad bridge in Warwick, for example, will soon be the focus of work, but it will be closed during the overnight hours. Other sites will see the use of accelerated bridge replacement, in which a new bridge is built next to the existing structure and installed in relatively quick measure.
Whether the truck-tolling program meant to fund RhodeWorks – which has rolled out far more slowly that initially planned – will prove as successful as hoped remains to be fully seen. For now, we are heartened to see so much activity on our ailing roads – and to see it coupled with a focus on efficiency and accountability.
The backups and detours frustrate us all. But the road ahead looks much clearer, and much safer.