Creating a municipal road and bridge revolving fund is crucial to generating economic growth in Rhode Island while improving its locally maintained roads and bridges, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo said.

“Establishing a predictable, innovative and cost-saving alternative for cities and towns to finance their road and bridge improvements is an important cornerstone to building a vibrant economy for our state,” Raimondo said Tuesday before the House Finance Committee in Providence.

Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, is lead sponsor for the proposal, which would have the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency administer the fund. Raimondo said the fund would provide municipal access to capital at lower rates for long-range planning and infrastructure investment and alleviate local budget strain by lowering annual debt-service payments.

Under the legislation, the agency would earmark up to $20 million annually for projects, with a maximum of 50% for any one city in a calendar year unless no other projects on a priority list are available.

Raimondo said the fund would be akin to a state infrastructure bank.

The American Society of Civil Engineers, in a March report card on infrastructure, said 70% of Rhode Island’s roads are of poor or mediocre quality. The report said 156 of its 757 bridges, or 21%, are structurally deficient while a further 255, or 34%, are functionally obsolete.

“Rhode Island’s roads and bridges are in terrible shape,” Raimondo said in an interview at the time.

She said money the state would save though its landmark pension overhaul in 2011 would free up money for the fund. Raimondo championed the bill, designed to save Rhode Island $4 billion over 20 years, although mediation talks are under way after public-sector unions challenged the pension changes.

Rhode Island’s General Assembly established the Clean Water Finance Agency in 1989 to administer federal and state programs that relate to municipal or community wastewater and drinking water financial assistance. Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s assign triple-A ratings.

Since 1996, it has issued more than $1 billion in subsidized loans through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund, and more than $10 million in loans through the smaller programs and roughly $100 million in conduit-financing loans.

The agency in the coming weeks intends to issue $51.2 million of water pollution control revolving fund revenue bonds.

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