During the first six months of 2016, major funding commitments by the U.S. Congress and the State of Rhode Island began to have a positive effect on the transportation construction industry. This was the main topic of discussion at the annual CIRI Spring Dinner Meeting on May 25. Held at Alpine Country Club in Cranston, the event attracted approximately 200 attendees from the CIRI membership. Featured speakers were:
Alison Black • ARTBA
Senior Vice President & Chief Economist
On December 4, 2015, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act was signed into law. Alison Black of The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) spoke to the May 25 assemblage about the immediate and future benefits this upsurge in financial support will provide to the industry.
Prior to the FAST Act, Congress had implemented over 40 short-term funding extensions as stopgap measures over the last decade. Coupled with the 2008 recession, this decreased the real value of highway work by about 25%. The resulting uncertainty caused major issues for states like RI that depend heavily on federal funding.
“Due to the passing of the FAST Act,” Black stated, “federal highway funding in FY2016 will increase from $40.3 billion in the previous year to $46.4 billion. Federal funds for Rhode Island will increase from $211M to $242M in FY2016, and the five-year program will provide $1.16B in total funding for your state.”
While the FAST Act is designed to reverse the decade-long deficiency in federal highway funding through 2020, ARTBA is concerned about the remaining lack of a long-term solution to eliminate the ongoing funding gap for the Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF). “ARTBA’s top priority for 2016,” said Black, “is to continue to try to find a fix for this.” On a positive note, Black pointed out that most of the recent HTF revenue enhancements have come through budget allocations and broad based bills.
In addition, Black offered a summary of various regulatory issues ARTBA is focused on as an advocate and watchdog for the industry. These include proposed changes to the EEO-1 form that companies with over 100 employees are mandated to file, concerns about the new FHWA tracking proposal for greenhouse gas emissions, and new silica exposure regulations released by OSHA on March 24.
Peter Alviti, Jr. P.E. • RIDOT Director
Since the historic RhodeWorks program was passed by the General Assembly on February 11, RIDOT has moved swiftly to put the massive bridge repair program in motion, to put shovels in the ground, and to get Rhode Islanders back to work. Peter Alviti provided details on how RIDOT was able to hit the ground running — the result of new and improved project management protocols introduced and implemented by its new management team over the past year.
A particular example cited by Alviti is the current Pleasant Valley Parkway bridge project in Providence. Just six months since the award, an accelerated phase of work has put the project 7 months ahead of schedule despite environmental restrictions. This key artery is slated to reopen by end-of-year, as opposed to the original target of mid-2017.
“This improved performance didn’t just happen,” Alviti said. “It’s the result of hard work across RIDOT to develop a new way of doing business. We studied best practices used by DOTs across the country to bring more transparency, accountability, quality results and speed to our project management process. We now have a finger on the pulse of all aspects of a project, from initial conception to final completion.
At the time of Alviti’s speech, 54 active construction projects were underway in 2016 including 26 bridge projects. As opposed to the department’s past practice of meeting the FHWA’s minimum 4-year plan requirement, RIDOT has now adopted a 10-year plan — only the 3rd state in the country to do so.
“The reliable, dedicated and predictable revenue stream created by RhodeWorks enables both RIDOT and its industry partners to plan effectively,” said Alviti. “The way diverse stakeholders came together to accomplish this, including Governor Raimondo, is something I’ve never seen in my 66 years of living in Rhode Island.”