PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Department of Transportation on Wednesday submitted a carbon reduction strategy that contains revisions aimed at addressing criticism from environmental advocates and the state’s attorney general.
In a statement, the Department of Transportation said the revised plan increases funding for bike path construction and improvement from $1.5 million to $6.6 million.
It adds in $1.5 million to support the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority by providing better access to bus stops and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance at these stops.
And it dedicates $20 million to encouraging people to make a decision to travel by means other than by car.
“These are positive changes that will provide the necessary actions for RIDOT to accomplish its part of the goal of net zero emissions by 2050,” Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti Jr. said. “Public input made this plan better.”
The strategy now goes to the Federal Highway Administration for review. If approved, it would provide the state with an estimated $35.7 million between federal fiscal years 2022 and 2026 to use for emissions reduction.
“This amount is a fraction of RIDOT’s annual budget and its 10-year-plan overall, which includes multiple, long-term strategies and programs which will ensure the agency meets it zero emissions goals,” the department stated.
Last week, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha blasted the Department of Transportation’s proposed strategy, calling it “misguided” and “unambitious,” and warning that it risks wasting millions of federal dollars.
In a seven-page comment letter, Neronha said the proposal did not specify how it would slash carbon emissions and would instead use most of the funds for already-planned highway maintenance projects.
“As a lifelong Rhode Islander, I know climate change is already impacting our state’s people and natural environment,” he said. “It is concerning, to say the least, when I see that RIDOT’s plan for critical federal dollars for carbon reductions fails to meet the moment — not only falling short of the goals we must meet, but suggesting a proposal at odds with the existing statewide plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Rhode Island needs every state agency to use all its federal carbon reduction funding to back a statewide effort to meet the goals of the Act on Climate, which make the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions mandatory and enforceable, Neronha had said.
Passed in 2021, the law calls for Rhode Island to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 80 percent below those levels by 2040, and to reach “net-zero emissions” by 2050.
The Department of Transportation had responded to Neronha by saying, “As part of the public comment process, RIDOT is assessing all the comments made, and we are making adjustments to the plan to address the concerns of the stakeholders. We’ll be releasing an updated version of the plan in the coming days.”
On Wednesday, the Department of Transportation said it had reviewed public comments from community and climate groups regarding its initial proposal and “revised the plan, as is the intent of the public comment period.” The strategy development process included the state’s Metropolitan Planning Organization and consultation with other agencies, a stakeholder workshop, and additional presentations at meetings open to the public, the department said.
The document submitted Wednesday notes that the projects funded through the carbon reduction program represent just one step to achieving the “net zero emissions” goal. It states the Department of Transportation is working toward that goal with other state agencies as part of the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council.
“While this document proposes additional steps for RIDOT’s involvement, a complete plan to decarbonize Rhode Island’s transportation sector is being developed through a multi-agency, stakeholder-driven process to meet the state’s more ambitious 2025 Climate Action Plan update,” the document states.
The Department of Transportation said the objectives of the strategy are to support implementation of the 2021 Act on Climate; complete a baseline assessment and forecast of the carbon impacts of the transportation sector in Rhode Island; identify funding priorities for the US Department of Transportation Carbon Reduction Program; and set up a framework for the future of carbon reduction planning in the state Department of Transportation.