Rhode Island’s Infrastructure Gets a ‘C-’ in its State’s First Infrastructure Report Card

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The Rhode Island Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released the inaugural 2020 Report Card for Rhode Island’s Infrastructure this morning in a virtual news conference, Speakers included Chad Morrison, P.E., 2020 ASCE Rhode Island President-Elect; Nazifa Sarawat, E.I.T., Chair, 2020 Report Card for Rhode Island’s Infrastructure; Mayor James Diossa of Central Falls, RI; Sarah Ingle, Manager of Long Range Planning, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA); and Dave Bowen, Engineering Manager, Narragansett Bay Commission.

The report gives Rhode Island’s infrastructure a subpar cumulative GPA of “C-.” The report graded bridges (D-), drinking water (C+), energy (C+), ports (C), rails (B-), roads (D) and wastewater (C).

Energy infrastructure has received a large share of attention in the Ocean State since Governor Gina Raimondo’s initiative to move the state to 100% renewable energy by 2030. Rhode Island is home to the country’s first operational offshore wind farm and help from the private sector continues to expand its inventory of wind farms. However, the majority of Rhode Islanders rely on gas lines for heating during the winter and 44% of the state’s gas lines are over 50 years old and require maintenance and upgrades.

As outlined in the report, Rhode Island’s renewable energy goals have been aided by the ports and rail sectors. For example, the Port of Providence (ProvPort) and the Port of Davisville supply Deepwater Wind with access to their facilities and terminal areas to assemble and construct wind turbines. Rail infrastructure received the highest grade of a B-, serving as a critical link to Rhode island’s ports and ultimately, its offshore wind farm. In recent years, Rhode Island has seen high speed rail, extended commuter service and revitalization of historic freight lines. The state’s rail infrastructure is well positioned to handle increased ridership demand.

Rhode Island’s surface transportation systems are in dire need of help. Bridges and roads received the lowest grades in the report, of a ‘D-’ and ‘D,’ respectively.

Rhode Island has the highest percentage of structurally deficient (SD) bridges in the country, with 22% of its 779 bridges earning the SD classification in 2019. 117 of Rhode Island’s bridges have a posted load restriction. Rhode Island’s share of rural roads in poor condition is ranked as the highest in the nation. Chronic underinvestment in both bridges and roads—coupled with the wear and tear of de-icing agents used to make surface transportation safe for travel during Rhode Island’s harsh winters—has led to an accelerated decline in the quality of these networks.

To combat underinvestment, state legislature passed RhodeWorks, a funding and prioritization plan to fix more than 150 SD bridges. The program has also invested $81.26 million in paving 100 miles of roadway since its implementation.

Climate variability and sea level rise are major concerns in the state, which hosts 400 miles of coastline and aging infrastructure systems.

Sea level in the Ocean State is expected to rise by 10 feet by 2100, which threatens all infrastructure sectors. According to the “Rhode Island Statewide Climate Resilience Action Strategy,” a one percent storm surge could flood 337 miles of public roads and impact 163 bridges. Adding a seven-foot rise in sea level would impact 573 miles of Rhode Island’s roads and 90 bridges.

These concerns carry over to the drinking water and wastewater sectors, which carry the oldest systems of all sectors. Rhode Island’s wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), serving 73% of the state’s residents, average 69 years old. The average pipe age is 100 years old in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls, which is double their 50-year life cycle. Older WWTPs are particularly susceptible to increasingly severe storms, which cause combined sewer overflows (CSOs), and endanger the local water supply.

While the state’s drinking water (C+) and wastewater (C) infrastructure also require attention, both sectors have kept up with maintenance over the years. Providence Water, the largest treatment facility in New England, is nearly 100 years old. However, the utility has invested $460 million into capital improvements and replacements since 1996, covering 86 miles of pipelines.

The report also includes recommendations to raise the grades, such as:

  • Improve multi-modal freight and landslide connections to ports to strengthen the entire freight system and reduce congestion that is costly to industries, local governments and the state’s economy when moving goods.
  • Increase in-state capacity for electricity generation to improve supply, reduce costs, ease regional market effects and recoup expenses by supporting renewable power generation with financial incentives, regulations that promote growth and industrial/logistics resources.
  • Continue to support the RhodeWorks plan and its emphasis on reaching a state of good repair for bridges, and identify additional reliable federal and state funding sources
  • Continue to develop infrastructure resiliency plans that address natural disasters and man-made extreme events. Incorporate the impacts of climate variations (sea level rise, extreme storm events) into the design, operation, maintenance and expansion of all types of infrastructure to improve community resilience.

ASCE State and Regional Infrastructure Report Cards are modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s infrastructure a grade of ‘D+’ in 2017.

A full copy of the Report Card for Rhode Island’s Infrastructure is available at  https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/state-item/rhode-island/.

 

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