The biannual CIRI dinner meetings are an opportunity to review recent progress in the RI heavy and highway construction industry, while also prefacing what’s in store for the next half-year and beyond.
The 2022 Fall Dinner Meeting at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick began with a brief welcome/introduction by CIRI President Mike D’Ambra. The discussion topics were largely focused on key RIDOT initiatives/projects on the horizon for 2023 — along with the acute need to grow the heavy and highway workforce to meet intense project demands and opportunities into the foreseeable future. The featured speakers were:
RIDOT Administrator of Project Management
Recapping the overall accomplishments of RhodeWorks, Lori Fisette provided a rundown of big-picture statistics amassed since the enabling legislation was passed in early 2016. Speaking on behalf of RIDOT Director Peter Alviti, she thanked CIRI and its members for both their crucial initial backing and their work to date.
“The enormity of what we’ve accomplished is unbelievable,” Fisette said. “Together we have completed 203 projects. Our (overall) work includes 244 bridges and 83 paving projects. To date, RhodeWorks has pumped $3.2 billion into this small state’s economy while creating thousands of jobs. It’s just historic.“
Fisette then provided a status review and lookahead for major projects on the RIDOT 2023 agenda. She prefaced this by speaking to the commitment to quality and tech innovation that has helped to fast-track projects and maximize the program’s effectiveness. This includes the use of new methods and materials to greatly increase the longevity of roads and bridges.
“Through our ability to accomplish so much and fix the number of bridges we have this year, we have been able to turn our attention to paving projects,” Fisette said. “In addition to our bridge repair and replacement schedule, we will invest an additional $92 million in paving this year alone — and $500 million over the next five years.”
To view the most up-to-date infrastructure plans and news, visit the RhodeWorks section of the RIDOT website at: www.dot.ri.gov/rhodeworks
LIUNA Vice President & Local 271 Business Manager
The labor shortage affecting all industries today is national news. An added challenge for heavy and highway construction is the substantial percentage of workers who’ve been in the industry for 35 to 40 years. In fact, there are more people retiring today than coming into the workforce.
“The enormity of the work today is a pretty daunting task,” Sabitoni said. “So how are we going to compete in this day and age — with all of the different industries that need young men and women? It’s going to take a collective effort from all of us to get this accomplished. And we have a plan to do so.”
A new component created to aid this plan is the RI Heavy Highway Construction Advisory Council: a partnership between CIRI and all of the trades represented by Local 271. Co-chaired by Sabitoni and CIRI President Mike D’Ambra, the council board includes RIDOT Director Peter Alviti, Jr. PE and Andrew Cortes, executive director for Building Futures Rhode Island.
Serving also as president of the RI Building Trades Council, Sabitoni travels to meetings with other trade council presidents around the country. “Other councils I’ve met with, large and small, don’t have the training, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship infrastructure that we have in Rhode Island,” he said.
A member of the Laborers Union for 36 years, Sabitoni closed his address by contrasting today’s labor challenges with the industry’s hard times during various recessions — recounting a time when over 600 RI laborers were looking for work.
“I know what it’s like to be on that out-of-work list on my local union wall. And I also know what it’s like to be the manager of the local union with a list hanging on that wall. I like this problem a lot better.”