Chafee pours cold water on Providence streetcar proposal

Apponaug_TIGER_rendering_June2013Gov. Lincoln Chafee loves infrastructure – but he’s not ready to support Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’s ambitious request for $39 million in federal money to build a streetcar line in the city.

“The streetcar project is a promising concept but not ready to go,” Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger told WPRI.com on Tuesday.

Taveras has asked for $39 million from the federal government to fund a $114-million streetcar system in the capital. The grant would come from the competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which has $474 million to hand out nationwide this year – meaning Providence is seeking about 8% of the national pot.

Chafee, however, wants a different Rhode Island proposal to win TIGER money this year: the state’s request for $10 million to build new bypass roads around the Apponaug Business District in Warwick, where Chafee was mayor from 1993 to 1999. Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian is also chairman of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, which is supposed to manage Providence’s proposed streetcar system.

Hunsinger suggested more work needs to be done before seeking money for the streetcar. “The governor supported the Apponaug project because it was ready to go (shovel-ready), had funding and was consistent with the criteria for the grant,” she said in an email. “The state also received clear signals from the feds that the state should be clear about what its priorities are and the Apponaug project is one of the governor’s priorities.”

The Warwick proposal also has its own website, ApponaugTiger.com (where Chafee’s name is misspelled).

The competing proposal to benefit Rhode Island’s second-largest city helps explain why Taveras’s TIGER application doesn’t include a letter of support from Chafee or R.I. Department of Transportation chief Michael Lewis, though it does have one from RIPTA’s new CEO, Ray Studley.

The two proposals could complicate efforts by the state’s congressional delegation to lobby the Obama administration for TIGER money for Rhode Island, not least because Providence is Congressman David Cicilline’s home base while Warwick is Congressman Jim Langevin’s. And, of course, Chafee and Taveras may find themselves competing in next year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The Providence proposal also suggests using $15 million from the Rhode Island Capital Plan Fund (RICAP) to pay for the streetcar, an amount that would need to be appropriated by the General Assembly. House Speaker Gordon Fox wrote a letter in support of Taveras’s application.

• Related: Digging in on Mayor Taveras’s proposed Providence streetcar (June 11)

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