Rhode Island has plenty to be proud of, from its stunning coastlines to its tight knit community. Infrastructure in the Ocean State, however, is more than just a smaller flaw. Widely known for having the worst infrastructure in the nation, Rhode Island has lagged behind other states with its glut of crumbling bridges and half-baked roadwork projects. Peter Alviti Jr., Director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), has consistently defended his record as a forward-thinking reformer who is modernizing Rhode Island’s waning infrastructure, and many in the political sphere have defended his record to this day.
That is, until the Washington Bridge disaster blew up in both his own face and all Rhode Islanders.
Since the bridge’s sudden emergency closure in December, traffic in and around Providence and East Providence has been at a standstill, affecting nearly 90,000 Rhode Islanders per day who use the vital bridge on their commutes, even as a temporary lane opened on the bridge’s westbound side. Along with this, small business owners are bearing the brunt of the bridge’s closure, as the catastrophic levels of gridlock have affected their bottom lines. The closure of the bridge is now being investigated by both the United States Justice Department and United States Department of Transportation, all while Alviti as well as Gov. Dan McKee praise the response they’ve led.
The closure of the Washington Bridge, however, is only a symptom of RIDOT’s disease. It’s devastatingly ironic looking back on Alviti’s reappointment hearing last year, where Sen. Louis DiPalma noted that “Perhaps most importantly, incredible progress has been made to address our aging and ailing bridges.” Under Alviti’s leadership, not only have structurally deficient bridges like the Washington Bridge been allowed to fester, but climate goals for the state have been deflected, public transit has been gutted, and cyclists and pedestrians have been forgotten.
Despite Rhode Island’s passage of the 2021 Act on Climate, RIDOT under Alviti’s leadership have vigorously pursued funding massive and expensive highway expansions, even when gas-powered vehicles account for nearly 40% of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
All the while, RIPTA has been left twirling in the wind, facing a fall off of a fiscal cliff, struggling with a shortage of drivers and pushing forward a controversial new bus hub that stands to gut Kennedy Plaza and cut Rhode Islander’s access to public transportation even further than it already has been. If Rhode Island plans to meet their emission reduction goals as outlined by the Act on Climate, then it’s difficult to imagine a larger obstacle than RIDOT under Alviti.
In order to rollback emissions in the most effective way, alternative methods of travel must be fostered and well-funded. If RIPTA has been seemingly thrown to the wolves, then a culture of increased pedestrian and bicycle travel must have been fostered by RIDOT, right?
Think again. Under Alviti, Rhode Island’s Transit Master Plan and Bicycle Mobility Plan have effectively been shelved, with Alviti himself referring to the initiatives as a “wish list”, stating “As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a plan. That’s a wish list, and agencies don’t operate on a wish list.”
All of these issues would be excellent to discuss with Alviti, if it was that easy. Since the Washington Bridge disaster, Alviti has largely failed at transparency. He has ducked the press, obstructed access to public records, and has kept Rhode Island unknowing on major decisions on the bridge’s future.
For his conduct as a leader of RIDOT, Alviti has largely lost the trust of Rhode Islanders. For the good of the state, he should resign immediately and a leader who can not only improve our crumbling infrastructure, but guide us towards a green future should take his post.
His leadership, however, leaves Rhode Island at an inflection point. Should we reject such utter mismanagement of our vital infrastructure? Or, should we let Alviti and McKee fiddle while “Rome Island” burns?