Chafee touches on transportation in speech

Gov. Lincoln Chafee delivers his State of the State Address on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee touched on several transportation topics in his State of the State address, but how much will those ideas cost?

"Any economy is dependent upon its transportation infrastructure," Michael Lewis, director of the state Department of Transportation, said Thursday.

Lewis said Chafee has understood that since being in office and made it clear in his speech to lawmakers Wednesday.

"The DOT is no longer borrowing to fund basic transportation projects," Chafee said in his speech.

"He created with the General Assembly a new program that would eliminate our need to borrow, and that was absolutely critical," Lewis said.

In the budget, the governor has committed to replacing equipment, which brings us to staffing the equipment and maintaining the roads.

Since 1980, the DOT staff has decreased from 584 workers to 226.

There are 25,000 catch basins along state roads that need to be cleaned to keep the roads intact. But Lewis said the state only has the staff to inspect and maintain between 1,000 and 2,000 a year.

"We can't even clean the existing catch basins. We don't have the capacity to do it," Lewis said.

And that's not good for the roads or the environment.

In his budget, the governor recognizes the need to fix existing infrastructure problems like that, and the need to find the money to do it.

Also in the budget, finding money through a $40 million bond proposal for the November ballot to hub mass transit and setting aside millions to maintain the state's 800 bridges.

According to a recent federal report, 20 percent are classified as structurally deficient.

"As the governor has in this budget and has always done, he's looking forward to the future," Lewis said.