RI heavy and highway sector performance
highlighted at CIRI Spring Dinner Meeting.

RI Governor McKee and FHWA’s Derek Torrey
were featured speakers at June 1 event.

The partnership and synergy among key stakeholders in Rhode Island continue to be a boon to our state’s overall infrastructure and the economy at large. During the 2023 Spring Dinner Meeting at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, a pair of prominent guest speakers spoke to the recent successes driven by the RhodeWorks program — while complementing the integral involvement of CIRI and its member companies.

CIRI President Mike D’Ambra with Governor McKee and Derek Torrey.

In his brief introduction, CIRI President Mike D’Ambra spoke to McKee’s longstanding support of the RI construction industry — dating back to his tenure as Lieutenant Governor during the Raimondo administration.

“We’re all familiar with RhodeWorks and what it’s done for our industry,” D’Ambra said, “Governor McKee has been a real champion for all industry, for business.” He also prefaced how the Governor and General Assembly have stepped up to prevent funding gaps while monies from the RhodeWorks truck tolling program are being jeopardized by a federal appeals challenge.

The event’s featured speakers were:

Dan McKee
Governor of Rhode Island

Governor McKee began his address by speaking about recent strategies undertaken to keep funding for the RhodeWorks program intact — despite the unfortunate federal court ruling which brought the state’s innovative truck tolling program to a standstill.

These strategies include judicious use of budget surpluses, while partnering with the General Assembly for allocations to offset revenue shortfalls over the next two years. This is also generating a multiplier effect across communities in Rhode Island, as many of its 39 cities and towns are putting substantial dollars into local road construction and rehabilitation.

“I have 39 flags in the rotunda of the State House,” McKee stated. “Because what happens on the local level is equally important — if not more important — than what happens on the state level. The idea is to invest those dollars in one-time types of investments that provide us decades of value.”

A former small business owner, the Governor provided a recap of other budget initiatives to help aid business and grow the economy both now and in the future. One example is how McKee worked with the General Assembly to eliminate the vehicle tax, which enables businesses to save tens of thousands of dollars. He also invited event attendees to reach out with any ideas to eliminate other “unlevel playing fields” to make Rhode Island more competitive with Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Derek Torrey
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
RI Division Administrator

Named to the post of RI Division Administrator in December 2022, Derek Torrey’s early career in Washington DC included advising on transportation policy to New England members of the US House of Representatives where he helped develop federal highway funding bills. His eight-year tenure with FHWA also began there: first as Legislative & Policy Analyst, followed by two years as Special Assistant to the Administrator.

Torrey stated he’s pleased to be serving Rhode Island, after spending years on the federal level getting money out to states for their projects. He pointed out that Rhode Island received just over $412 million from the Biden-backed bipartisan Infrastructure Investment in Jobs Act (IIJA) — up from the $300 million from the previous highway bill two years ago.

“I’m really excited to finally be here in a state where you guys are actually doing the work,” Torrey said, “building the projects that make such a difference really in every aspect of our lives. One of the first things I noticed is that Rhode Island’s really getting a lot done. But it all can only happen because of everybody here in the room.”

Torrey added that a lot of other states are having trouble using their federal money — and have had to slow down projects — since their construction sectors don’t have enough people to carry them out.

“You guys have stepped up to the task, and I applaud you for that,” Torrey concluded. “Because the only way we can keep this funding coming is to use it, and to use it well.

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