Some of RIDOT’s new project signs don’t tell the whole story

State's largest active project, over budget and behind schedule, lacks a transparency sign

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Transportation’s new transparency effort advertising the status of highway projects is using incomplete data in some cases, according to records reviewed by the Target 12 Investigators.

In April, RIDOT began erecting blue signs at construction project sites that use green, yellow or red dots to tell motorists whether the project is on time and on budget. A green dot means the project is on track, yellow tells the public it is under six months behind schedule, and a red dot means it is delayed more than six months or over budget.

Reviewing RIDOT’s latest quarterly report, Target 12 discovered some projects touting a green light but doing so by relying on figures that are incomplete. (The quarterly reports began earlier this year as part of the new RhodeWorks law.)

For example, the Appanaug Circulator in Warwick is advertised as being under budget, but the quarterly report does not account for nearly $40 million in design and “other” costs.

In all, Target 12 found six highway projects with signs that boast a green dot but  have questionable data.

Among them: the Central Avenue Bridge in Barrington and the recently replaced bridges at the East Shore Expressway in East Providence.

Transportation Director Peter Alviti said those construction jobs were started by the previous RIDOT leadership, who he said used poor accounting practices.

“We’ve taken the data as best as we could determine it and as best as we could compile it for those projects,” Alviti said. “When we walked in, we walked into a bloody mess with regards to project budgets, schedules, and scopes.”

He said the data for those projects “existed in such remote places and such diverse fragmented ways that it couldn’t be even extracted.”

Alviti said as RIDOT begins doing projects started under the current leadership,  using improved accounting practices, they will feel more confident about the data used to determine what color a sign should be advertising.

“Are we perfect? No,” he said. “You will see some of those that we’re responsible for — fully responsible for, ones that were started after we got here — that may from time to time go to yellow or red.”

He added, “It’s all geared toward holding ourselves, our workers, and this department as a whole to a higher level, a higher standard, and more transparency.”

No sign for over-budget project

As of now, there are roughly 110 signs posted statewide. A RIDOT spokesperson said all of the signs are made in-house by state employees and cost about $135 each.

Yet Target 12 found the largest active project in the state that is both over budget and behind schedule – and which thus would have two red dots – does not have a transparency sign.

That would be the Providence Viaduct, which carries Route 95 through the heart of Providence, and which is “over a year behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget,” according to Alviti.

The southbound bridge of the project is listed in RIDOT’s quarterly report as being $3.8 million over budget and 14 months behind schedule — yet no sign currently informs motorists they’re driving on a budget-busting bridge.

Alviti said the sign “is coming.”

“We probably should’ve put that one up first,” Alviti said. “We assigned the sign-making process to the project managers and we’re trying to do it within our own maintenance division.”

He denied that the Viaduct is sign-less because it’s a highly visible project that’s behind schedule and over budget.

“Believe me, if I were trying to hide things you’d see no signs out there,” Alviti said. “The fact is we’ve got over 100 signs already out, and by December we’ll have the rest of them out, including that project.”

He notes the Viaduct is also a legacy project that was already over budget when he took over RIDOT in early 2015.

“You can criticize, ‘Why did you put these signs up before those?'” he said. “A lot of the signs that are going up are projects that we’re just starting under the new administration and we wanted to shed a proper light on those, right from the beginning.”

Alviti said if it weren’t for the new RIDOT regime’s commitment to transparency and accountability, the public and news media would be kept in the dark about where things stand.

“We welcome the kind of questioning that you’re asking here,” Alviti said. “Think about the questions you’re able to sit here asking that you would’ve never been able to ask before.”

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook