Raimondo's road reality: Tolls are the fairest way to pay to fix them

Excerpted from the Sept. 15 Digital Diary column in GoLocalProv:

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is (sadly) quite right to drop the very expensive ($595 million) plan to create an attractive boulevard to replace the ugly Route 6-10 Connector and knit some neighborhoods back together. She rightly says that the priority must be on fixing the dangerously decrepit bridges there as soon as possible. This is, after all, one of the region’s busiest stretches of highway.

It is, of course, too bad that this decades-old  highway project split apart neighborhoods when it was built. This was typical of the highway mania of the time, before pedestrians, bicyclists and public-transportation started to gain more respect for environmental and socio-economic  reasons.

The late Massachusetts Gov. Frank Sargent deserves much credit for his refusal back in the ‘70s to let Route 95 be plowed straight through Boston,  which would have ripped many neighborhoods. At the time, many said that his action would hurt Boston by making it less highway efficient. But in fact by saving  well-functioning neighborhoods and encouraging mass-transit use, it made the city more attractive and prosperous.

The 6-10 Connector crisis reflects our slob culture: While public officials like to ribbon-cut new bridges and other public projects, they don’t want to take the heat for the taxes needed to pay to maintain them.

Similar things happen in the private sector, especially at colleges, universities, museums and hospitals. Rich people want their names on buildings whose construction they help finance but they tend not to be interested in giving money for the boring and mostly anonymous work of repair. So institutions often find themselves in a fiscal bind within a few years of a building a “naming opportunity’’ that is starting to fall apart.

And, of course, the politicians are loathe to take the heat for imposing or increasing tolls, even though tolls, as user fees, are the fairest way to pay for transportation-infrastructure upkeep. And many in the public are just as myopic. Recall the uproar when Governor Raimondo mostly successfully proposed a system of  truck tolls to help pay for repairs, and yet trucks do 80-90 percent of the damage to Rhode Island’s highways and bridges.

As for the 6-10 Connector, one can hope that as the bridges are repaired that some new roadside landscape can make the stretch less depressing.

-- Robert Whitcomb