STATE HOUSE – The Department of Transportation will need to coordinate with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to help small businesses that will be affected by RhodeWorks construction projects under a bill sponsored by Rep. Lauren H. Carson and Sen. Dawn Euer that cleared the General Assembly yesterday.

The legislation (2018-H 71042018-S 2086), which now heads to the governor, is a response to the Broadway Streetscape Improvement Project in Newport, a $5.8 million project that has restricted parking, temporarily rendered a section of the busy road one-way and resulted in significantly less traffic to local businesses.

The bill also specifically includes the project to realign the ramps to the Newport Bridge, a major project that could affect area businesses for three to five years.

“Road and bridge improvements have obvious benefits for the community and for local businesses, but the effects during the actual construction can be brutal on a small business. Detours that route the public away from a business, lack of parking and pedestrian traffic, or congested traffic can all keep customers away and really hurt them,” said Representative Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) in a press release issued from the Rhode Island General Assembly. “The state should be working proactively with small businesses to help them do everything they can to succeed during construction.”

Said Senator Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) in the release, “DOT and Commerce ought to plan ahead and communicate with the business community, get feedback, identify ways to minimize disruption and enable businesses to make their own preparations. While we need better roads, we shouldn’t harm small businesses in the process.”

RhodeWorks, enacted in 2016, is a statewide initiative to repair more than 150 structurally deficient bridges and make repairs to another 500 bridges to prevent them from becoming deficient, bringing 90 percent of the state’s bridges into structural sufficiency by 2024.

Under the legislation, the DOT would be responsible for identifying the specific impacts of RhodeWorks projects on small businesses, such road and bridge closings, parking restrictions and traffic pattern changes, including the dates of proposed work, road closures or changes to traffic patterns or parking, and communicate that information to the Commerce Corporation with at least two months’ notice.

The Commerce Corporation would then be required to assist businesses affected by RhodeWorks projects by sharing the information with small businesses in the affected communities and neighborhoods, providing support to minimize the economic and financial impact during road and bridge construction, meeting with affected businesses to review business plans during construction and providing strategic and marketing assistance as necessary.