Gas is nearly $4 a gallon and, as a result, more Rhode Islanders than ever are taking the RIPTA bus. Meanwhile, many of Rhode Island’s bridges (maintained by DOT) are unsafe, and we all know what the pot-holes in our local streets are like.
In 2011, the Rhode Island General Assembly had a chance to address both sides of the transportation issue – RIPTA and DOT – with the “Transportation Investment and Debt Reduction Act.” The General Assembly did a good job back then with the first half of the problem, the DOT part. Now it’s time for the legislature to help RIPTA. The right way to do that is to pass H-5073, also known as the O’Grady Bill, for one of its chief sponsors, Rep. Jay O’Grady.
The Transportation Investment and Debt Reduction Act, passed two years ago, provides a stable and secure source of funding for the DOT without burdening Rhode Island taxpayers with huge debt-service obligations. In the past, Rhode Island floated a bond issue of $80 million every two years to raise the local matching funds needed to bring hundreds of millions of dollars of federal highway funds into the state. This constant borrowing was unsustainable, and was saddling our children with huge debt-service costs. According to the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s Voter Guide, Rhode Island tax payers are now obligated to repay $59.85 million in debt service alone (over and above principal repayment of $80 million) on just the 2010 bond. The Transportation Investment and Debt Reduction Act ensured that DOT would be able to get its matching funds without bonding and without more debt service.
That law is now saving Rhode Island tax-payers tens of millions of dollars over the life of those bonds. That’s a lot of money, especially when the economy is in tough shape.
But transportation is more than just roads and bridges. With gas at almost $4 a gallon, RIPTA ridership is at an all-time high. The O’Grady Bill provides much-needed sustainable funding to RIPTA. With those funds, RIPTA will be able to maintain existing service, put more busses on the busiest routes, increase the number of commuter Park-and-Rides, build more bus shelters at stops, and create new hubs for faster transfers and connections.
Today, nearly 70% of all Rhode Island bus riders are going to and from work or school. That’s why having good public transit is so important to growing Rhode Island’s economy – and why the business community supports the O’Grady Bill.
Other people use to bus to get to medical appointments and doctor’s visits. Having good public transit is linked to cleaner air. That’s why Rhode Island health organizations, including the American Lung Association in Rhode Island (and others), are supporting the O’Grady Bill.
The O’Grady Bill also provides additional funds for DOT’s construction projects. That’s why the unions are supporting the O’Grady Bill.
By providing additional funds for public transit, the O’Grady Bill will help reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. That’s why environmental organizations like CLF are supporting the O’Grady Bill.
In fact, when the O’Grady Bill was heard last year in the House Finance Committee, dozens of people spoke in favor of it – from business and labor, from community groups and environmental groups. There are not many bills that have such widespread support. Not one person spoke against the bill.
The General Assembly did not pass the O’Grady Bill last year. It should pass it this year. The O’Grady Bill will help us grow the economy, and will help all Rhode Islanders. That’s why it has garnered such wide support.