This November, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) released and submitted its Carbon Reduction Strategy (CRS) to the Federal Highway Administration. The development of a state-specific Carbon Reduction Strategy was required by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) Carbon Reduction Program (CRP)1 and will provide over $35 million to reduce emissions in the transportation sector in Rhode Island over a five-year period 2. This is a solid injection of funding, but – at an average of $7 million per year – it is quite a small amount relative to RIDOT’s overall capital projects budget in the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which was over $900 million in 2023.3
The transportation sector represents the largest proportion of GHG emissions in Rhode Island; as such, the development of a strategy to reduce carbon in the transportation sector, driven by RIDOT, is critical to helping Rhode Island meet the greenhouse gas emission reduction mandates outlined in the 2021 Act on Climate law. However, the investments proposed by RIDOT in its CRS do not address the scale of emissions reduction needed to move the needle. This strategy can and should go much further and seek to deliver many more benefits to Rhode Island commuters and communities.
For the state to align emissions reductions in transportation with state climate law, a proper evaluation of total and project-specific GHG emissions will need to be undertaken. Outside of three large congestion management projects, RIDOT does not calculate project-level emissions reductions associated with its transportation investments. The wide variety and scale of projects considered not only for CRP funding but also for $9 billion in Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP)4 funding require distinct emissions reduction analyses. In particular, RIDOT must consider meaningful investments in strategies that reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMTs) and promote mode shift to cleaner mobility alternatives, such as public transit, walking, biking, and more.
Earlier this year, in July, Acadia Center took the lead in reconvening a coalition around transportation decarbonization, motivated by the limited information provided to-date surrounding RIDOT’s Carbon Reduction Strategy (CRS). Acadia Center convened monthly meetings of advocates and conveyed the group’s concerns during public comment at multiple Transportation Advisory Committee, State Planning Council, and Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council meetings. Our coalition pushed RIDOT to open a public comment period and invest more funds in mode shift, and we mobilized a broad range of members of the public to comment on the CRS. Though we still have serious concerns regarding RIDOT’s approach to engagement, mode shift, and carbon reduction, RIDOT’s release accompanying their revised Carbon Reduction Strategy (CRS) in November noted the value of public input and shifted the allocation of remaining funds to place a much greater emphasis on mode shift, to the tune of a 170% increase.5
Acadia Center has also been in dialogue on these topics with our partners in organized labor through the Climate Jobs RI coalition. Part of getting this shift in mindset and planning right will mean doing right by the union construction workers who have helped build and maintain Rhode Island’s transportation infrastructure for decades. As a result, that means we and other advocates are thinking carefully about novel ways to ensure that the shift in project types, infrastructure, and transportation modes does not come at the expense of work opportunities, labor standards, or certain trades. We are optimistic nonetheless that the low-carbon transportation projects of the future – from rail and bike networks to ports and beyond – can support a just and equitable transition for our workforce.
Upcoming opportunities for robust public process and investments in mode shift and non-car infrastructure include the revision of the Division of Statewide Planning’s Public Participation Plan (which applies to RIDOT) and the next allocation of STIP funding. Like the advocate contributions that shaped RIDOT’s revised CRS, more public input is needed to shape transportation planning and decision-making moving forward. Acadia Center will continue to support state agencies and collaborate with fellow advocates and community-based organizations to bring both needed attention and strategies and investments that meaningfully reduce transportation emissions and put Rhode Island on track to meeting its climate goals.
A final note: we are mindful that many teams within RIDOT will in the coming weeks and months be focused on the urgent situation facing the I-195 bridge, following the emergency closure on December 11. The timely repair and remedy of the issues facing the bridge are obviously of paramount importance for a swift return to a safe commute for drivers and passengers. We hope that support for shifting modes where feasible can be a part of the solution to address the resulting traffic impacts in the interim as well.
For more information:
Joy Yakie, Environmental Justice and Outreach Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-742-0054 x110
Emily Koo, Senior Policy Advocate and Rhode Island Program Director, email@example.com, 401-276-0600 x402
1 The CRP is a provision of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) and is intended to help states design projects to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector for the 2022 – 2026 fiscal years.
2 RI DOT has already spent $13.1 million of CRP funding on existing projects in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, with over half of those funds allocated to congestion management projects. The remaining $22.6 million will be allocated and spent between the release of the Strategy (November 2023) and the end of FY 2026.
3 STIP Program Allocation Summary, 2022-2031 Revision 9 with Pending Changes, https://planning.ri.gov/sites/g/files/xkgbur826/files/2023-11/Section_2_STIPFinal%20MTP%2011-3-23_0.pdf
4 The STIP is a list of transportation projects the State of Rhode Island intends to implement using United States Department of Transportation funds. https://planning.ri.gov/stip
5 Funding for bike path construction and improvement, while not new bicycle infrastructure, did more than quadruple, and funding was also allocated to RIPTA bus stop accessibility and early implementation of commuter rail service.