Partnership in the News: Rhode Island taking steps towards statewide economic plan

On November 9, Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln D. Chaffee announced a multi-agency effort to develop an integrated and statewide approach to economic development. Funded by a Regional Planning grant from the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development, the project will assess the state’s economic assets and situation to plan for future development.

“I agree with all Rhode Islanders that we need to take steps to improve the economic climate of the state. In 90 days we will have data analysis that we will use to inform decisions to use our assets wisely, prioritize our ideas and focus our resources in specific areas where we can make a real difference,” said Governor Chafee.

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Momentum Continues in the States

Though all eyes have been on federal transportation policy the last few weeks, states have continued to push forward with their Complete Streets efforts. Bills have been introduced in West Virginia and Rhode Island, and several states with Complete Streets policies in place move ahead with implementation.

Complete Streets

Using historic preservation tax credits to revitalize urban communities in Rhode Island


The Alice Building in downtown Providence, RI, was built in 1898 and recently renovated to become apartments in the heart of town. Photo by Flickr user Mr. Ducke.

Advocates in Rhode Island seek to reinstitute the state’s Historic Preservation Investment Tax Credit. The redevelopment success of the previous credit, and Rhode Island’s need for affordable housing and economic stimulation, means that restoring the credit will be key to help the State successfully recharge its real estate sector. Restoring the credit will also help to implement Rhode Island’s land use plan aimed to “achieve excellence in community design” by supporting redevelopment in traditional neighborhoods and focusing growth in town centers.

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Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads

Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.

Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.

“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”

“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”

The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.

State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.

Click here to read the full report, state-specific data and view the interactive map.

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"An increasing movement toward more walkable cities"

CNBC released its list today of the top 10 most walkable cities in America, and includes in it a discussion of the growing trend among towns and cities to create neighborhoods with pedestrian-friendly streets and bustling downtown shopping districts. These features are a key part of smart growth development strategies and, as CNBC writer Cindy Perman explains, walkable neighborhoods have benefits beyond street-level charm. Walkable neighborhoods feel safer and more social, and help build exercise into daily routines. But even more importantly, walkable neighborhoods bring economic benefits:

You wouldn’t spend much time hanging around in the parking lot of a strip mall in a car-dependent suburb. But, you would linger in a very walkable city, which means you’re more inclined to spend more. Quite a bit more, in fact. The Urban Land Institute studied two Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, one walkable and one not. They found that the Barnes & Noble book store in the walkable suburb made 20 percent more in profits than the one in the driving-dependent suburb.

“We call that a place-making dividend,” McMahon said. “People stay longer and come back more often and spend more money in places that attract their affection.”

There’s an economic benefit for homeowners, too: Homes in walkable cities hold their value better than those that were heavily reliant on driving, according to Smart Growth America, a group that promotes “smart growth” instead of suburban sprawl.

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New profiles provide a closer look at state transportation investments

A new report out today from Smart Growth America analyzes how all 50 states invested their flexible transportation funds from 2009’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The report examines what projects each state used its funds for, and whether those projects created as many jobs as possible.

Transportation projects create jobs in the short term but can also create the foundation for a stronger economy in the long term – particularly if those projects repair existing roadways or create public transportation options. As Newsweek’s David A. Graham explains:

It’s not enough just to inject money into infrastructure, because not all transportation funding is created equal—or at least, it doesn’t create jobs at an equal rate. As any infrastructure policy wonk can tell you, money spent on fixing up existing systems or building mass transit delivers more jobs, and faster, than building new highways.

Smart Growth America’s new report found that many states didn’t invest their funds this way and in doing so missed a significant opportunity to create more jobs. As a companion to that report, Smart Growth America has released state-specific recommendations for states looking for ways to improve their transportation investments.

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New report reveals smart transportation spending creates jobs, grows the economy

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” to win the future. To rebuild America, he said, we will aim to put “more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.”

A new report from Smart Growth America analyzes states’ investments in infrastructure to determine whether they made the best use of their spending based on job creation numbers. Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation evaluates how successful states have been in creating jobs with their flexible $26.6 billion of transportation funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Those results should guide governors and other leaders in revitalizing America’s transportation system, maximizing job creation from transportation dollars and rebuilding the economy.

According to data sent by the states to Congress, the states that created the most jobs were the ones that invested in public transportation projects and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges. The states that spent their funds predominantly building new roads and bridges created fewer jobs.

As Newsweek’s David A. Graham explains, investments in transportation create jobs in the short term and longer term economic prosperity too:

Injecting money into transportation projects, the thinking goes, is an especially potent jobs-creation tool because it not only puts construction workers and contractors to work quickly, it also lays the groundwork for future economic growth and development. Obama predicted the transportation money alone would put hundreds of thousands of workers on the job.

As “Recent Lessons from the Stimulus” explains, not all transportation projects reap these benefits equally:

[S]tates spent more than a third of the money on building new roads—rather than working on public transportation and fixing up existing roads and bridges. The result of the indiscriminate spending? States missed out on potentially thousands of new jobs—and bridges, roads, and overpasses around the country are still crumbling. Meanwhile, the states that did put dollars toward public transportation were richly rewarded: Each dollar used on transit was 75 percent more effective at putting people to work than a dollar used for highway work.

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KeepSpace Initiative helps Rhode Island make the most of state resources

This post is part of an ongoing series about organizations that have received grants from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Did your organization receive one of these grants? Tell us about it!

At the October 18th, 2010 announcement of KeepSpace’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance award. Photo by Jeffrey A. Morse Photography.

Rhode Island’s KeepSpace initiative, which aims to create prosperous and healthy communities throughout the state, was recently selected as one of seven communities to receive assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Smart Growth Implementation Assistance program.

Launched in 2007, KeepSpace is a partnership between public agencies and private organizations from across Rhode Island that work together to make sure the state’s programs and investments promote sustainable growth and empowered communities.

EPA’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance grant will help the partners in KeepSpace develop and apply a set of metrics for use in funding decisions. The metrics will help ensure state dollars are being stretched further to develop more affordable transportation and housing options, a healthy environment, and a strong economy.

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New report: State transportation decisions could save money and reduce carbon emissions

Download the ReportA new report released today by Smart Growth America and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that transportation policies in every state could save money and reduce carbon emissions by making smarter decisions with state funds.

In “Getting Back on Track: Climate Change and State Transportation Policy,” SGA and NRDC found that current transportation policies in almost all 50 states either fail to curb carbon emission rates or, in some cases, actually increase emissions. This contradiction between state policies and broader efforts to reduce carbon emissions means not only that many states are missing opportunities to protect clean air; it means they are missing economic opportunities as well.

In a press conference this morning, former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening remarked:

Transportation makes up an enormous proportion of our national economy and our environmental impact: it must be front and center as we think about how to get the most out of our public investments. The states that rose to the top in this report, California, Maryland and New Jersey, are there because they are meeting the challenge to innovate.

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