One-time legislation would allow East Providence access to road fund

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EAST PROVIDENCE — Within the last two weeks, city pols Representative Helio Melo and Senator Daniel DaPonte have submitted legislation in their respective chambers that would clear the way for East Providence and other like communities to utilize the Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Loan Fund this year.

Most notably, East Providence and Pawtucket, among the others, wouldn’t have had access to the $6.5 million in funds available in a timely manner because of City Charter restrictions, which deem such expenditures must face a vote of the general public for final approval.

Not looking to supersede local law, the proposals in front of both chambers are meant to be used one-time only, according to Rep. Melo, who like Sen. DaPonte chairs his respective Finance Committee.

“This legislation is for those cities and towns who fall under that category. It’s meant to bypass any Charter ordinances for this year and this year only,” Rep. Melo explained. “After the review by the Department of Transportation we decided this needed to be done because in this particular case municipalities, including East Providence, would not be able to take advantage of this opportunity during this year’s construction season.”

East Providence had four of the top five priority projects on the list developed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation late last year. The projects totaled $1,215,000. Only the Broadway streetscape improvement plan submitted by Newport was listed higher. That project came in with an approximated total of $1 million.

In city, the Forbes Street roadway and sidewalk plan is considered the most expensive at $450,000. The same work plan for Crescent View Avenue would run $315,000. Refurbishing the road surface and sidewalks of Commercial Way is approximated at $270,000. And North Broadway roadway and sidewalk improvements are estimated to cost $180,000.

“In total, these are very small amounts of money for cities and towns to borrow and we do not feel as though it will put them in any financial jeopardy,” Rep. Melo added. “I, personally, also think the residents of these municipalities will appreciate having their roads fixed and also have the ability to borrow money at a much lower rate of interest (2-2.25 percent) than they normally could. The fund will save cities and towns thousands of dollars in interest.”

In total, 14 communities submitted 23 project applications to gain access to the 2014 Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Loan Fund, totaling $29.7 million in requests. However, only $6.5 million was approved to initiate the fund by the General Assembly during the 2013 session.

Rep. Melo said he expects both chambers to take up the legislation and pass it sometime during the week of February 24. The bill would then go to Governor Lincoln Chafee’s desk for his signature and proceed to the Clean Water Finance Authority, which is backing and managing the fund, for final approval of individual projects. Rep. Melo said he hopes construction in municipalities will be able to start by early spring.

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