Hearing Tuesday on First Toll Gantries With Acute Case of UHIP-itis

A couple of weeks ago, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) released an Environmental Assessment of the first two proposed toll gantry locations in southern Rhode Island, a major initial step to the launch of Governor Gina Raimondo’s highly destructive, wasteful and unnecessary RhodeWorks toll program.

This Tuesday at 6:00 pm (that’s right, two days before Thanksgiving) in Richmond, RIDOT will be holding a workshop and taking public comment about it. Note that RIDOT will not be responding to any questions about the assessment or the gantries – heaven forbid they be responsive to the public – they will only be recording the public’s comments.

There’s one major problem with this Environmental Assessment: the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management explicitly told RIDOT that they cannot proceed with the second gantry location (PDF page 153 of the assessment) because no determination could be made about its impact on nearby wetlands due to inadequate information provided by RIDOT. That’s right, this ENVIRONMENTAL Assessment was released even though it was not ready – where have we heard that before? – lacking as it does a determination about a critical ENVIRONMENTAL component of the project.

In other words, as with the UHIP system, this Environmental Assessment was not ready and should not have been released.

(Important side bar: Governor Raimondo is purportedly a big proponent of the environment. Perhaps the press or some of her eventual opponents can ask her why she allowed the release of an Environmental Assessment that is glaringly incomplete. Does she care about the environment or does she not?)

In terms of the process going forward: after Tuesday’s hearing, RIDOT will submit the Environmental Assessment to the federal government. Governor Raimondo and RIDOT will do so with the fervent hope that the feds concur with the findings of this (incomplete) assessment that there would be no significant impact of the proposed first two gantries and do not make them do a full blown, drag-it-out-for-years environmental study. (Remember, she’s the environmental governor!)

The responsible reaction by the feds to this request should be exactly the same as RI DEM to the incomplete wetland information: decline to issue a determination in light of sloppy and incomplete information submitted by the Raimondo administration and send this Environmental Assessment back to the drawing board.

In terms of what concerned toll opponents can do: all comments made at Tuesday’s hearing will be passed along to the federal government. The hearing takes place at Chariho Middle School, 455 Switch Rd B, Richmond, RI 02894. (As a friend drolely observed, RIDOT is holding it there only because they couldn’t book a cornfield in an even more obscure location.) If you happen to be free that night and can stop by – the hearing starts at 6:00 pm but don’t hesitate to arrive early if you can – perhaps you can respectfully suggest that the feds do exactly that: send this not-ready-for-prime-time assessment back to the drawing board. Or feel free to comment on anything about these first two proposed gantries, including especially their very proposed existence.

And even if RIDOT obtains this wetlands determination by Tuesday’s hearing, they have already failed to comply with the regulation/procedure which governs this assessment and, minimally, need to start the thirty day clock again. At some point, Governor Raimondo needs to be held accountable, on a large scale or small, for green-lighting major state projects on the basis of unrealistic, self-serving whim rather than facts on the ground and the best interest of all Rhode Islanders.

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