In Rhode Island, government is a natural disaster.
Yes, yes, words get thrown around in state-level politics, but there’s an important lesson in East Providence City Council President Bob Rodericks’s letter asking Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee to declare a state of emergency over the closure of the Washington Bridge between East Providence and Providence:
… East Providence is impacted more than any other community in Rhode Island. Our police and fire departments are stretched to their limits. The necessary repairs or possible bridge replacement will evidently take much more time than originally anticipated. Currently, I am not looking to assess blame, but I believe that the crisis has reached an emergency situation which calls for federal assistance. RIDOT is involved with several projects throughout the state and may be stretching resources beyond reasonable limits.
Accordingly, I respectfully request that you consider enacting a “State of Emergency” declaration. Possibly the US Army Corps of Engineers can expedite the bridge repairs alongside our RIDOT. The Rhode Island National Guard could also help with traffic control to assist with local East Providence Police efforts during peak hours of gridlock. …
Given the profound effect of these circumstances, it’s easy to lose sight of the obvious, and Rodericks hints in its direction. Declaring a state of emergency would be reasonable. Bringing military forces to bear might be extreme, but it’s not laughable. The key observation, however, is that this response isn’t to a natural disaster or enemy invasion. The state of Rhode Island is utterly failing at its most basic functions.
As much as Rodericks distrusts Rhode Island’s ability to resolve this problem on its own, his requests are typical of the Ocean State. He wants to call in the federal government for more resources to keep doing what Rhode Island does. That’s not going to work anymore.
In this Rodericks is nothing if not representative. The rot extends much beyond our government. For all the media coverage of the hours it took the DOT to inform the governor of a dire situation with the bridge, nobody is investigating the underlying problems. Why does Rhode Island not have more-regular bridge inspections? Why does it cost so much and take so long to repair its infrastructure?
Well, the government of our state serves special interests entirely, and the biggest special interest in Rhode Island is its collection of labor unions. Anybody truly serious about fixing things around here — or even just overcoming this one major obstacle — would be calling on the governor and legislature to waive regulations that have nothing to do with safety or a well-run government and everything to do with enabling DOT inspectors to sit in their cars for hours and road crews that can regularly be seen with more workers standing around watching than actually working.
But such problems are untouchable in Rhode Island. Every solution comes with a quiet footnote that the real problems cannot be considered.
Featured image by Justin Katz using Dall-E 3 and Photoshop AI.