PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Senate on Tuesday confirmed the reappointment of Peter Alviti Jr. as state Department of Transportation director despite opposition from bike and climate activists.
The Senate voted 35 to 1 for Alviti, who has headed RIDOT for the past eight years and was reappointed by Governor Daniel J. McKee.
“Since taking the helm at RIDOT in 2015, Director Alviti has overseen a major turnaround of the agency — an unprecedented turnaround,” said Senator Louis P. DiPalma, a Middletown Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “Perhaps most importantly, incredible progress has been made to address our aging and ailing bridges.”
He noted Rhode Island had ranked 50th in the nation in structurally deficient bridges, saying, “Over seven years, nearly 250 bridge projects have been completed and more are on the way.”
DiPalma gave Alviti credit for “significant advances” in the state’s transit system. “RIDOT has reconstructed the Westerly and Kingston train stations, revitalized the Wickford station, started significant investment in the Providence station, and celebrated the recent opening of a brand new train station and transit hub in Pawtucket and Central Falls,” he said.
DiPalma also praised Alviti for the successful launch of ferry service between Providence, Newport, and Bristol. And, he said, the department has “invested tens of millions of dollars and developed long-term plans to enhance Rhode Island’s active transportation infrastructure, including bike lanes and paths.”
Senator Samuel W. Bell, a Providence Democrat, cast the lone vote against Alviti, saying he was surprised by how many more people spoke in opposition to his reappointment this year as compared to four years ago.
“I think part of this is a philosophical issue,” Bell said. “I think it is important that we reposition our transportation system away from uses that cause carbon pollution, and I don’t think director Alviti shares that philosophy.”
Bell also criticized Alviti for “extensive use” of design-build contracts, in which the state signs one contract to design and build a project. In those arrangements, the contractor “essentially oversees themselves,” he said, and “we have seen a lot of disasters that have come out of this system.”
For example, Bell noted that a Massachusetts company, Barletta Heavy Division, and a former senior employee, Dennis Ferreira, have been charged with dumping thousands of tons of contaminated soil and stone at the 6/10 highway project site in Olneyville from the Pawtucket/Central Falls commuter rail station and from a site in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.
The material contained polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that were “known to be linked to a type of scrotal cancer that particularly affected chimney sweepers in 19th century London,” Bell said. And those materials were dumped in Olneyville, which he described as an “environmental justice community.”
“One of the things I think that shows is the failure of a system where there isn’t adequate oversight of our contractors, and that has shown up time and time again in RIDOT,” Bell said. “We need to switch back to a model that has enough oversight to prevent these disastrous outcomes.”
But Alviti received bipartisan support.
Senator Gordon E. Rogers, a Foster Republican who is the Senate minority whip, said he “wholeheartedly” supported Alviti’s confirmation. “The direction we are going is the right direction,” he said.
And Senator Elaine J. Morgan, a Hopkinton Republican, backed Alviti, saying, “We have had our differences throughout the years, but I will say that I call and he responds. My roads, my bridges in my district are getting done. Whenever a constituent calls with any kind of an issue, they are on it.”
Morgan said she wishes Alviti would convince the McKee administration to drop its appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that Rhode Island’s truck tolls are unconstitutional. But, she said, “He has done an excellent job.”
Alviti previously served as Cranston’s public works director and as director of programs for the Laborers International Union of North America.
During a Senate Finance Committee hearing last week, Alviti talked about progress the Department of Transportation has made since he took over eight years ago. For example, he said Rhode Island had the worst bridges in the country in 2015, but since then the percentage of deficient bridges has dropped from 27 percent to 15 percent.
At the hearing, Alviti faced opposition from climate, bike, and mass transit advocates. For example, critics said Alviti has poured millions into widening highways while failing to invest enough in alternative modes of transportation to meet the targets established by the Act on Climate, which made goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions mandatory and enforceable.
Alviti’s confirmation comes as Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, has called for placing the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority under the control of the Department of Transportation.
After confirming Alviti on Tuesday, the Senate voted 36 to 0 to confirm Colonel Darnell S. Weaver’s appointment as superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and director of the Department of Public Safety.
Senator David P. Tikoian, a Smithfield Democrat, said he served in the State Police with Weaver for more than 21 years. “Serving with someone for that long, you get to know them very well,” he said. “I can attest to the colonel’s uncompromising integrity, his dedication to duty, dynamic vision, strong leadership ability, and inclusive management style.”
The Senate also voted 36 to 0 to confirm Matthew D. Weldon’s appointment as director of the Department of Labor and Training.
“Director Weldon has been an extremely effective leader at DLT and has responded immediately to our constituents’ concerns,” said Senator Walter S. Felag Jr., a Warren Democrat. “Especially during the COVID era, when a lot of people were facing unemployment issues, Matt was there constantly — morning, noon, and night — assisting the workers there in responding to the needs of the constituents.”
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.