PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island voters will be asked to approve five bond measures totaling $227.5 million in the Nov. 8 election.
The ballot questions ask voters to allow the state to issue general obligation bonds to improve seaports in Providence and at Quonset Point; build affordable housing, university buildings and a new veteran’s home; and expand recreational areas.
The state estimates the total cost of the bonds after two decades of interest will be nearly $365 million. All of the measures are backed by Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, who has described them as vital to improving the state’s economy and quality of life. None have organized opposition, though some have vocal opponents.
Republican state Rep. Patricia Morgan, who opposes all but the veteran’s home measure, said the money is too much for a tiny state to borrow since the burden is on taxpayers to pay back the debt. She is particularly concerned about the $20 million for the Port of Providence, saying there was not enough public discussion before lawmakers tacked it on to a bond measure that was originally meant to improve the Quonset port.
The most expensive bond measure is Question 5, which calls for $70 million to expand two major ports. The group that runs the state-owned Port of Davisville, at Quonset Point, in North Kingstown, would get $50 million to repair and modernize old piers that are used for automobile imports and other heavy cargo. The other $20 million would be used to buy up to 25 acres of land on the Providence waterfront and use the newly acquired land to expand the Port of Providence.
Question 7 asks for $50 million for housing and urban revitalization. Of that, $40 million would enable the state Housing Resources Commission to build new homes that are affordable for families with low or moderate incomes. Another $10 million would be used to improve blighted residential and commercial properties and public spaces.
Question 4 asks for $45.5 million for higher education construction projects centered at the University of Rhode Island. Of that, $25.5 million would be used to renovate and expand the 1928-built Bliss Hall, at the university’s College of Engineering, in South Kingstown. The remaining $20 million would be to create a URI-affiliated innovation campus at an undetermined location. The aim is to make it a high-tech hub where private companies and academics can collaborate on research that can lead to new products, services or businesses.
Question 6 asks for $35 million for environment and recreation, including $10 million to design and construct bikeways such as the Blackstone Bikeway and the South County Bikeway; $5 million to clean up former industrial sites; $5 million to help towns and cities develop recreational facilities; and other initiatives to preserve open space and farmland, improve historic properties such as Fort Adams State Park, and prevent stormwater pollution.
Question 3 asks for $27 million to finish constructing a new Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol. A 2012 voter-approved bond measure allowed the state to borrow $94 million for the same project, but the state only borrowed $33.5 million because it got an infusion of federal support. Now, however, it says it needs to authorize $27 million to finish the work, which began last year, because of the rising cost of materials and labor and a change in federal guidelines. If approved, the total amount borrowed as a result of the 2012 and 2016 questions would be $60.5 million.