In light of reduced highway funding and aging transportation infrastructure in Rhode Island, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri last Wednesday announced the formation of a blue ribbon panel designed to tackle transportation funding over the next four to five years. The 12-member group will assess the state’s transportation needs and identify potential funding sources.

“As is the case in states throughout our nation, Rhode Island’s transportation needs far outweigh available resources,” Carcieri said in a statement. “With a projected deficit of the federal highway trust fund in 2009, there is a national concern that the federal government will reduce transportation funding to all states. We could see a 30% to 40% decrease in federal transportation funding. If that happens, Rhode Island could stand to lose $60 million- $70 million in transportation funding each year.”

Carcieri noted that most of the state’s heavily traveled roads and bridges were built between the 1950s and the 1970s and are aging and deteriorating. He also said the Rhode Island Department of Transportation has examined the condition of bridges and prioritized projects for the next five years. RIDOT determined that about $600 million is needed for bridge repair and replacement projects over that period.

“Unfortunately, our current revenue streams will not provide the funds we need. Unless we take measures now, many of the highway projects that we’ve committed to will be delayed,” the governor said.

Carcieri commissioned the panel, supported by RIDOT staff, to work together for six months before reporting back its findings.

Rhode Island issues about $40 million of general obligation bonds each year for highway and bridges, said RIDOT associate chief engineer Robert Shawver. It also issues about $3 million for rail roads and $1 million for buses. Every two years, the state’s voters are asked to approve about $80 million to be issued over two years.

The General Assembly also authorized the use of grant anticipation revenue vehicles to speed up projects, according to Shawver. Garvee bonds were issued in 2003 and 2006, and the last issuance will occur in 2009 for $119 million. In 2009, $25 million of motor fuel revenue bonds will also be issued.

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