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RI State Report: Marathon Bombings, Job Numbers + Sakonnet Tolls

Saturday, April 20, 2013


This week’s State Report centers on the Boston Marathon bombings and the important role that Rhode Island is playing in the relief efforts. Additionally, we’ll examine the March unemployment figures and the newly approved Sakonnet bridge tolls. Also on the docket, is the unveiling of new Amtrak station improvement plans and news that a state official has stepped down.

Rhode Island lends a helping hand to Boston

In the wake of the tragic events that unfolded at Monday’s Boston Marathon, Gov. Lincoln Chafee has pledged continued support to Bay State residents.

“I am grateful that our state has been able to assist the State of Massachusetts and the City of Boston during this difficult period,” said Chafee. “In addition to the donation of blood, the Rhode Island State Police and the Rhode Island National Guard have sent resources and assistance to Boston. It is at challenging times such as these that American come together and help one another, an we in Rhode Island will continue to do all we can for our neighboring state and to send our thoughts and prayers.”

Specifically, the Rhode Island Blood Center has sent about 330 units of blood products to aid in lifesaving efforts. The Rhode Island State Police have provided four troopers with explosive-detecting canines, and the Rhode Island National Guard have provided a four-member Civil Support Team.

The Boston marathon bombings claimed the lives of three individuals and injured over 170 others.

Unemployment rate drops, but so does the state’s labor force

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate has fallen once again, reaching its lowest level since November 2008. The jobless rate in March was 9.1 percent in March, down from 9.4 percent in February, according to a state Department of Labor and Training report released on Thursday.

The report also indicated a positive trend in job creation. The number of Rhode Island jobs was up 1,500 from February, to 467,000. The professional and business sector added 1,600 jobs, which was offset by a loss of 500 jobs in the health care and social assistance sector.

Despite the encouraging decline in unemployment, the size of the labor force fell in March. In fact, the size of the labor force dipped by 2,400, to 558,900 last month. The number of employed residents also declined by 500, to 507,800.

The national jobless rate in March was 7.6 percent. Rhode Island’s jobless rate in March 2012 was 10.6 percent.

RIBTA approves Sakonnet Bridge tolls

Despite protests from East Bay residents and business owners, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority approved tolls for the new Sakonnet River Bridge on Wednesday.

The newly approved rates include a 75-cent charge for motorists with an in-state E-ZPass transponder; a $3.75 charge for drivers with an out-of-state E-ZPass; and $5.25 rate for driver without an E-ZPass. Out-of-state residents are, however, eligible for in-state rates if they purchase a Rhode Island E-ZPass.

Rhode Islanders who frequently use the bridge will be able to buy a monthly pass for $36. Residents that do not wish to buy a monthly pass, but make multiple trips over the bridge per day, will be charged only once in each direction per day, according to RITBA Board Chairman David A. Darlington.

Darlington and RITBA officials argue that money is needed for bridge maintenance, therefore the tolls are necessary. The state’s four bridges will require roughly $350 million in maintenance and repairs over the next decade, according to Darlington.

Opponents of the toll, including lawmakers Sen. Walter Felag and Rep. John Edwards have argued that the toll could be avoided by redirecting state funds from other programs to bridge maintenance and operations.

The Sakonnet River Bridge averages roughly 39,000 vehicles a day, but this figure is expected to drop 21 percent when tolling is implemented in early July, according to a study conducted for RITBA.

State Health Insurance Commissioner steps down

On Thursday, Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced that the Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller would be stepping down at the end of June to become President of the Milbank Memorial Fund, a national health policy foundation in New York City.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Commissioner Koller, and I want to sincerely thank him for his service to our state in this critically important area over the past decade,” said Chafee. “We appreciate his hard work and leadership – both locally and nationally – in implementing systemic reforms to improve health insurance in Rhode Island.”

Koller was appointed as Health Insurance Commissioner in January 2005, making him the first and only such commissioner in the country. During his tenure, Koller has developed a comprehensive commercial health insurance rate review process; established and enforced expectations of commercial insurer efforts to reduce the underlying costs of medical care; and established the nationally recognized Chronic Care Sustainability Initiative, which is focused on improving primary care.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Rhode Island in this role,” said Koller. “I am grateful for the opportunity and leadership provided by Governor Chafee, Lieutenant Governor Roberts and my colleagues in the Cabinet.”

Founded in 1905, the Milbank Memorial Fund is dedicated to nonpartisan analysis, study, research and communication on significant issues in health policy.

Governor unveils Amtrak improvement plans

On Monday, Gov. Lincoln Chafee and other state and federal leaders announced plans to revamp Amtrak’s Providence Station. According to Chafee, the state will invest about $6 million to upgrade and reconstruct pedestrian and vehicular access at the rail station.

“Providence Station is the gateway to downtown Providence, with over one million passengers passing through the Station’s doors each year,” Chafee said. “These upgrades and improvements will help us make the experience of travelling to Providence via rail more convenient, more pleasant, and more reflective of our outstanding capital city.”

“I am pleased to have secured Federal funding to improve our rail system and help upgrade the Providence Station to make it more accessible and efficient,” said Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the Senate’s Appropriation’s subcommittee that overseas Federal Transportation funding, who helped lock up $5.2 million in federal funding.

Opened in 1986, the Providence Station is served by Amtrak and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). The location has four tracks for passenger service and is the 16th busiest Amtrak station in the country out of 500 locations. 


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