Downpour downfall

RIDOT fails to address storm-water issues for years

November 06, 2015

Peter Alviti has run into trouble, and needs to stumble upon thousands of missing items.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) head and the agency he leads is, for the most part, in the dark, which is why there is a need to scour 1,100 miles of road in search of areas where RIDOT storm-water drainage is taking place. That’s right, in some cases Alviti and his people would need a fluorescent rain shower to create streams leading to the state-sponsored grates. They simply do not know where they all are—the byproduct of decades of bad record-keeping.

The search needs to turn successful in a hurry, because the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency have filed a consent decree in federal court ordering RIDOT to act immediately and take care of tainted runoff that can carry heavy metals, grease, oils, trash and sediments into Rhode Island’s waterways, including Narragansett Bay.

Apparently, for years RIDOT has allowed an endless stream of filth to enjoy a recreational swim in bodies of water all over the state. The agency snubbed the Clean Water Act in four major areas:

  • It did not take appropriate steps to evaluate and address the impact of its systems on impaired waters in Rhode Island;
  • It did not detect and eliminate illicit connections and discharges of pollutants, including sewage, from illicit connections;
  • It did not inspect, clean and repair its drainage systems; and 
  • It did not conduct adequate street sweeping to reduce the flow of contaminants.

So, basically, RIDOT enjoyed hearing the sound of the rain, because that sound meant no work. Now it’s going to cost the agency money. Alviti announced RIDOT plans to spend between $6.6 million and $16.8 million a year on drainage improvements over the next 10 years. A total of $112 million will be used to repair an estimated 25,000 storm-water catch basins on state roads, 3,800 outfalls and 100 other treatment systems. 

“For nearly a decade, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation has ignored its obligation to the people of Rhode Island to protect the waterways of this state,” said U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha in a statement. “Instead, through its neglect and indifference—through its failure to inspect and maintain its storm-water runoff system—RIDOT has contributed to the pollution of those waters.”

I expect to read about private companies dumping toxic sludge into our drinking water, not a state agency whose only responsibility is to protect the citizens using its system. Now Alviti will have to eliminate this mess with a $112 million scouring pad, money that could be spent repairing a road and bridge network circling the drain.

The fact that RIDOT chose to stick a cork in any plan to address storm-water issues for years is inexcusable. Alviti has outlined a payment plan, and I would hope a detailed approach has been laid out as to how the necessary fix will play out over the next 10 years. Then again, we are talking about an agency that does not even know the location of all of its storm-water units. Looks like RIDOT needs to find some integrity, and fast. R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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