New RhodeWorks signs won’t have Gov. Raimondo’s name

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The next batch of the blue RhodeWorks accountability signs are being built with one significant design change: they will no longer bear Gov. Gina Raimondo’s name.

Nearly 200 of the signs can currently be seen along Rhode Island state roads and highways, announcing a project’s timing and whether or not it’s on budget.

But there were some questions as to whether or not the signs conformed to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) design standards. Specifically, language in the code of federal regulations states signs should “not include promotional or other informational signs regarding such matters as identification of public officials.”

When Target 12 asked the FHWA about the RhodeWorks signs’ design back in March, spokesperson Nancy Singer responded, “FHWA is aware of the signs and is looking into the matter.”

The following month, R.I. Department of Transportation spokesperson Charles St. Martin said the agency had received a green light from the FHWA the previous year. But now RIDOT officials say they are changing the signs and omitting the governor’s name “after consultation with the Federal Highway Administration.”

“The new design will go into effect with the next batch of accountability signs for new projects and will not include the governor’s name,” St. Martin said in an email. “RIDOT was also sensitive to concerns that some citizens had about the format of the signs while also maintaining our commitment to accountability to the taxpayers of Rhode Island.”

St. Martin added that the existing signs will not be changed. The Newport Daily News was first to report on the design change.

In an interview Wednesday, RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said the “criticisms” about the governor’s name being on the signs “were beginning to distract too much from the real message we wanted to send.”

He said they ran the signs’ design by a federal highway official – with the governor’s name on them – to get approval.

“It was not an issue with them, or if it was they certainly didn’t voice it,” Alviti said. “Nobody ever issued a violation to us saying we broke the rules.”

Singer, the FHWA spokesperson, confirmed the governor’s name should not have appeared on the sign per federal regulations which “prohibits the names of elected officials on the signs.”

“FHWA is continuing to work with RIDOT on the matter,” she wrote in an email.

St. Martin said the signs are constructed and erected by state workers, costing roughly $240 each to build and install.

“The purpose of the signs is to provide a kind of dashboard to the public of the job we’re doing,” Alviti said. “Are we on time, are we on budget, are spending the money that they give us prudently?”

As Target 12 reported last year, there were some questions about the math used to determine whether a project was on budget – earning a highway or bridge repair a green dot. Target 12 discovered some projects touting a green light were doing so by relying on figures that are incomplete. At the time, six highway projects boasted a green dot based on questionable data.

Alviti said those numbers were based on projects that began under the prior administration, when he said construction costs weren’t tracked properly. As those legacy projects phase out, he said, RIDOT officials are becoming more confident about the data behind the signs.

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