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Rhode Island. Department of Transportation. | State Archives Catalog

Name: Rhode Island. Department of Transportation.


Historical Note:

The Department of Transportation has numerous responsibilities relating to the transportation infrastructure and traffic management of the state of Rhode Island. Today, its mission is “to maintain and provide a safe, efficient, environmentally, aesthetically and culturally sensitive intermodal transportation network that offers a variety of convenient, cost-effective mobility opportunities for people and the movement of goods supporting economic development and improved quality of life”. Although the DOT was only created as its current iteration in 1970, its history can be traced back to the turn of the twentieth century. The investigation of this complicated history reveals the constantly changing and evolving functions and responsibilities of the Department of Transportation.

The Department of Transportation was created in 1970 by statutory authority in PL 1970, chapter 111 (RIGL §42-13-1). This department was created in order to bring together in one department all responsibilities relating to transportation. Thus, the newly formed Department of Transportation took over the functions of the Department of Public Works, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, and the Council on Highway Safety. Because of this, it is necessary to follow the trajectories of these separate departments in order to fully understand the history of the Department of Transportation.

One of the first government organizations created to maintain the transportation infrastructure of Rhode Island was the State Board of Public Roads. Prior to this organization, the monitoring and maintenance of public roads was scattered and localized. The State Board of Public Roads was created in 1902 to monitor and oversee the construction, improvement, and maintenance of state-owned roads in a uniform manner. In 1909 an Automobile division was created, to be appointed by the State Board of Public Roads. This division had the responsibilities of registering vehicles, issuing plates, and handling other aspects of vehicle administration. This small division is the ancestor of the current Division of Motor Vehicles. The State Board of Public Roads, with its Automobile Division, continued to oversee transportation and vehicular regulations and duties of the state until 1935. In 1935, as part of the larger government restructuring into a departmental system, the Department of Public Works was created under PL 1935, chapter 2188. This department took over the responsibilities of the State Board of Public Roads, and included a division of roads and bridges, a division of public buildings, a division of state airports, and a division of harbors and rivers. The functions of the Automobile Division went to the Division of Motor Vehicles and Registration within the Department of Taxation and Regulation. It was not until 1939 that a Registry of Motor Vehicles came to be within the Executive Department, with an Advisory Council on Highway Safety.

Throughout the next few decades, the Department of Public Works and the Registry of Motor Vehicles went through nearly annual changes, which included both adding and removing divisions, agencies, councils, and commissions. The next major change in the Department of Public Works was in 1970, with the creation of the Department of Transportation. This department was created because the government responsibilities relating to transportation were split among too many non-related agencies. Therefore, the Department of Transportation was a large agency aimed at consolidating all of these varied and fragmented functions. The creation of the Department of Transportation closed the Department of Public Works and the Registry of Motor Vehicles in the Executive Department. The Registry of Motor Vehicles remained within the Department of Transportation until 1994, when it moved into the Department of Administration, and in 2006 it moved to the new Department of Revenue as the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Today, the Department of Transportation has many responsibilities relating to all forms of transportation in Rhode Island, including highway and bridge construction and maintenance, bike path monitoring, traffic notifications, commuter rail expansion, and highway safety.

Abbreviated Timeline:

1902: Creation of the State Board of Public Roads.

1909: Creation of the Automobile Division within the State Board of Public Roads.

1935: Creation of the Department of Public Works, taking over the State Board of Public Roads.

1939: Registry of Motor Vehicles moved to the Executive Department.

1970: Creation of the Department of Transportation, taking over the Department of Public Works.

1994: Registry of Motor Vehicles transferred to the Department of Administration.

2006: Division of Motor Vehicles moved to the newly created Department of Revenue.

Extended Timeline:

1892: Committee formed by the General Assembly to assess the condition of the public Rhode Island highway system.

1895: Committee studying the condition of the Rhode Island highways gives a report to the General Assembly; roads are largely found to be in poor condition.

1895: State Highway Commissioner appointed.

1899: Position of State Highway Commissioner withdrawn.

1902: Creation of the State Board of Public Roads -PL 1902, chapter 982: An Act to provide for the construction, improvement, and maintenance of state roads.  -creates a State Board of Public Roads -five (5) members, appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate -board must make an annual report to the general assembly detailing what it did in the previous year and its recommendations for the upcoming year -“…making such recommendations for relocating, regarding, or improving the main highways of the state as it shall deem for the best interests of the entire state…” -must include plans and a time frame for any suggested project -with the approval of the general assembly, the board “shall thereupon direct and control, according to law, the expenditure of all such appropriations, and is hereby authorized to make all contracts necessary for that purpose”

1909: Creation of the Automobile Department within the State Board of Public Roads. -PL 1909, chapter 454 amends PL 1908, chapter 1592, the Automobile Act -with the Automobile Department, the State Board of Public Roads is to handle vehicle registration, plate distribution, and other vehicle administration -Automobile Department appointed by the State Board of Public Roads

1912: The State Board of Public Roads is given jurisdiction over all bridges that are part of public roads. -had previously been handled by local authorities with unsafe and non-uniform consequences

1927: The Automobile Department of the State Board of Public Roads becomes the Motor Vehicle Department of the State Board of Public Roads. -this new iteration of the Automobile Department includes a Registration Division, an Investigating Division, a Research and Statistical Division, a Gasoline Tax Division, and a Hearing Division -still appointed by the State Board of Public Roads

1931: Motor Vehicle Department of the State Board of Public Roads adds a License Examination Division.

1935: Creation of the Department of Public Works as part of a larger Rhode Island government reorganization and consolidation; takes over the responsibilities of the State Board of Public Roads.  -PL 1935, chapter 2188  VI. Department of Public Works  Director of Public Works 1. Division of Roads and Bridges 2. Division of Public Buildings 3. Division of State Airports 4. Division of Harbors and Rivers -PL 1935, chapter 2250 “Department shall be the department of public works. The director of public works shall have supervision over all contracts for public works, the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repairs of roads and bridges, the care of public buildings as herein specified, the development and maintenance of airports, jurisdiction over rivers and harbors within the limits of state law; provided, however, that all contracts for the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repairs of all public roads and bridges, public buildings and all other properties of the state government, and purchases of all equipment, materials and supplies used in connection therewith shall be negotiated by the board of contracts, standards and purchases. The director of public works shall co-operate with the federal government in public works projects.”

1935: The new Department of Taxation and Regulation includes a Division of Motor Vehicles and Registration. -with the government reorganization as per PL 1935, chapter 2250, the responsibilities formerly given to the Motor Vehicle Department of the State Board of Public Roads transfer to the Division of Motor Vehicles and Registration as part of the Department of Taxation and Regulation

1937/1938: Department of Taxation and Regulation becomes Department of Revenue and Regulation.

1939: Registry of Motor Vehicles created as part of the Executive Department; includes an Advisory Council on Highway Safety. -PL 1939, chapter 660: -“Within the executive department there shall be a registry of motor vehicles under the direction of a registrar of motor vehicles who shall be appointed by the governor and shall serve at his pleasure. Said registrar shall supervise the enforcement of all laws relating to the issuance, suspension and revocation of motor vehicle registrations and licenses, the inspection of motor vehicles, and the study and analysis of motor vehicle accidents…[and will also perform the duties] heretofore performed by the chief of the division of motor vehicles in the department of revenue and regulation or by his assistants and agents, provided, however, that the collection of and accounting for all fees shall be made by the department of coordination and finance under the tax administrator of said department.” -thus ends the Division of Motor Vehicles and Registration within the Department of Revenue and Regulation; its duties are transferred to the Registry of Motor Vehicles within the Executive Department -“Sec. 24. On and after the passage of this act, the governor’s committee on street and highway safety appointed according to law shall cease to exist and the powers and duties given to said committee shall vest in the advisory council on highway safety appointed under the authority of the following section…Said council shall make suggestions to and shall advise the registrar concerning the policies, rules, and regulations of the registry of motor vehicles relating to highway safety, provided, however, that said advisory council shall have no administrative power. -this council is to have five (5) members, appointed by the governor, with no more than four (4) of the same political party

1939: Division of Business Management added to the Department of Public Works.

1940: Creation of an Aeronautics Advisory Board and the position of Administrator of Aeronautics in the State Airports Division of the Department of Public Works.  -PL 1940, chapter 851: -“Within said department there shall be an administrator of aeronautics who shall be well qualified in aeronautics and shall be appointed by the director, with the approval of the governor, and in accord with the requirements of the state civil service act. Said administrator of aeronautics shall exercise the powers and duties of the department and director relating to aeronautics…”

1943: New divisions and a position added to the Department of Public Works. -Division of Automotive Equipment, Division of Post War Planning, and position of chief airport engineer within the Division of State Airports added to the Department of Public Works.

1945: Creation of the Automobile Dealers’ License Commission within the Registry of Motor Vehicles.  -PL 1945, chapter 1639 -creates the Automobile Dealers’ License Commission with seven (7) licensed automobile dealers to be appointed by the governor for a five (5) year term -this Commission handles the distribution of automobile dealers’ licenses -“all the provisions of this act shall be administered by the registrar of motor vehicles under the supervision of said commission”

1945: Research Division and Advisory Council on Highway Safety removed from the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

c.1946-46: Division of Post War Planning within the Department of Public Works closed.

1950: The Motor Vehicle Act (PL 1950, chapter 2595) fleshes out the duties and powers of the Registry of Motor Vehicles and other governmental agencies that deal with motor vehicles.  -adds a Traffic Commission to the Registry of Motor Vehicles -“There shall be established a commission consisting of the superintendent of state police, the registrar of motor vehicles and the director of public works, to be known as the state traffic commission. It shall be the duty of the state traffic commission to establish the traffic regulations under this act. The state traffic commission shall adopt a manual and specifications for a uniform system of traffic-control devices consistent with the provisions of this act for use upon highways within this state.”

1951: Division of State Airports within the Department of Public Works becomes the Division of Aeronautics.

c.1950-51: Department of Public Works loses its Division of Automotive Equipment.

1951: Jamestown Ferry Authority added to the Department of Public Works. -PL 1951, chapter 2674: -“Within the department of public works there shall be a Jamestown ferry authority, a body corporate and politic, which shall function as a unit independent of the director and not subject to his jurisdiction” -the director of public works is declared an ex-officio member -the authority will monitor the operation of the Jamestown Ferry -“The ferry service operated or which may be operated by said company when operated by the authority is hereby declared to be necessary and convenient in connection with the use of the state highway system, and said ferries when so operated by the authority shall be deemed part of the state highway system”

1952: Division of Parks and Recreation added to the Department of Public Works. -PL 1952, chapter 2973: An act establishing a division of parks and recreation within the department of public works and transferring certain functions from the department of agriculture and conservation thereto. -“Sec. 1. There is hereby established within the department of public works a division of parks and recreation whose functions shall include the operation, maintenance and development of all state owned parks and recreation areas and the establishment and maintenance of additional recreation areas as may be required. The director of public works shall appoint a chief of such division who shall be in the classified service. Sec. 2. Wherever in any general or public law there is assigned to the division of forests, parks and parkways within the department of agriculture and conservation authority for the establishment, maintenance or development of parks and recreation areas, this authority shall be transferred to the division of parks and recreation within the department of public works.” -the former Division of Forests and Parks within the Department of Agriculture and Conservation becomes simply the Division of Forests

1953: Safety Responsibility Division with a chief of Safety Responsibility added to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

1954: Creation of the Mount Hope Bridge Authority as part of the Department of Public Works.  -PL 1954, chapter 3391 -creates a Mount Hope Bridge Authority as part of the Department of Public Works -five (5) members; one (1) is the director of public works, ex-officio, four (4) are appointed by the governor -authority monitors and adjusts tolls, issues revenue bonds, enters contracts for bridge maintenance, etc.

1954: Creation of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. -PL 1954, chapter 3390:  -creates a Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority -five (5) members, with one being the director of public works, ex-officio

1955: Road Maintenance superintendents and Freeway Property Acquisition Division added to the Division of Roads and Bridges within the Department of Public Works.

1955: Division of Traffic Engineering and Highway Planning added to the Department of Public Works.

1956: Creation of a State Pilotage Commission as part of the Department of Public Works.  -PL 1956, chapter 3853 -creates a State Pilotage Commission with three (3) members appointed by he governor -one (1) must be a licensed pilot with five (5) years active service on the waters of Rhode Island, one (1)  must be a representative of the public, and one (1) shall be the chief of the division of harbors and rivers, ex-officio -shall “make, establish and enforce such rules and regulations” that relate to pilotage  -decides qualifications necessary to obtain a pilot’s license  -issues, suspends, and revokes licenses  -makes an annual report to the director of public works

1958: An act abolishing the Jamestown Ferry Authority and transferring its functions to the state department of public works and making an appropriation therefore.  -PL 1958, chapter 195: -“The Jamestown ferry authority created pursuant to the provisions of chapter 24-11 of the General Laws, is hereby abolished, the terms of office of the members thereof are terminated, and the powers, rights and duties and functions of said Jamestown ferry authority are transferred to and vested in the state director of public works.” -creates a Jamestown Ferry Commission in the department of public works which includes the director of public works as chairman, the public utilities administrator, the director of administration, and two (2) qualified electors -among other responsibilities, commission handles tolls

1959: Motor Vehicle Inspection Division with a chief inspector added to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

1960: Creation of an Automobile Body Repair Shop Hearing Board as part of the Registry of Motor Vehicles in the Executive Department.  -PL 1960, chapter 175 -five (5) member board

1961: Division of Traffic Engineering and Highway Planning removed from the Department of Public Works.

1965: Division of Parks and Recreation and Division of Harbors and Rivers moved from the Department of Public Works to the new Department of Natural Resources. -PL 1965, chapter 137: An act establishing a department of natural resources and defining its function. -“There is hereby established within the executive branch of the state government a department of natural resources. The head of such department shall be the director of natural resources, who shall be in the unclassified service and who shall be appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the senate, and shall serve at the pleasure of the governor” -divisions created within the Department of Natural Resources: -Parks and Recreation, Conservation, Agriculture, Harbors and Rivers, Planning and Development, Enforcement -Harbors & Rivers and Parks & Recreation, formerly part of the Department of Public Works, are now part of the Department of Natural Resources

1965: Comprehensive Transportation and Land Use Planning Division added to the Department of Public Works.

1967: Automobile Wrecking and Salvage Yard Regulatory License Commission added to the Registry of Motor Vehicles within the Executive Department.  -PL 1967, chapter 213 -nine (9) member Commission in charge of regulating, issuing, suspending, and revoking automobile wrecking and salvage yard licenses

1967: Establishment of a Medical Advisory Board in the Registry of Motor Vehicles within the Executive Department.  -PL 1967, chapter 185: -“to function as a reviewing and advisory panel to the registrar of motor vehicles on the subject of physical standards for operators. When any licensee’s application for a license is questioned on the grounds of physical fitness, the medical board shall assist the registrar in determining such licensee’s qualifications to operate a motor vehicle”

1970: Department of Transportation is created, taking the place of the Department of Public Works and the Registry of Motor Vehicles. -PL 1970, chapter 111 -Department of Transportation will take over the Department of Public Works, Registry of Motor Vehicles, Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, and the Council on Highway Safety. -original divisions: Administration, Roads and Bridges, Planning, Maintenance, Airports, Aeronautics Advisory Board, State Pilotage Commission, Motor Vehicles, Motor Vehicle Dealers’ License Commission

1973: Division of Roads and Bridges removed from the Department of Transportation.

1974: Division for Administrative Adjudication added to the Department of Transportation. -PL 1974, chapter 41: An act providing for the adjudication of traffic offenses within the Department of Transportation Traffic Violation Hearing Board -“31-43-1. DIVISION FOR ADMINISTRATIVE ADJUDICATION—within the Department of Transportation there is hereby established a division for administrative adjudication. Said division shall be headed by an assistant director of transportation, who shall be appointed by the governor. ADJUDICATIONS OF VIOLATIONS—(1) Notwithstanding any inconsistent provision of law, all violations of state statutes relating to motor vehicle and traffic offenses, except parking, standing or stopping, driving so as to endanger resulting in death, driving under the influence of liquor or drugs, reckless driving and other offenses against public safety as provided in section 31-27-4, driving without a valid license or after denial, suspension or revocation of license, and leaving the scene of an accident in violation of sections 31-26-1 and 31-26-2, shall be heard and determined by the Division of motor vehicles pursuant to the regulations promulgated by the assistant director for motor vehicles as provided in this chapter.”

c.1973-74: Division of Public Works added to the Department of Transportation.

1975: Division of Administrative Adjudication added to the Department of  Transportation

1979: Aeronautics Advisory Board removed from the Department of Transportation.

1981: Automobile Body Repair Hearing Board and Automobile Wrecking and Salvage Yard Regulatory License Commission removed from the Department of Transportation.

1985: Scenic Highway Board created as part of the Department of Transportation. -PL 1985, chapter 398: -defines the requirements for a highway to be declared a scenic highway, assigns cost and signage responsibilities -creates a Scenic Highway Board -eleven (11) members, one of whom shall be the director of transportation

1994: Registry of Motor Vehicles transferred to the Department of Administration. -PL 1994, chapter 70, article 21 -previously a division of the Department of Transportation, the registry of motor vehicles moved to be a part of the Department of Administration

2004: RIDOT's Management and Information Systems staff was consolidated into the Department of Administration's Division of Information Technology in 2004 in an effort to better manage the state's information technology resources. The staff assigned to RIDOT headed by the Administrator, is responsible for oversight, coordination and development of all IT staff and resources. The DoIT staff assigned to RIDOT assist the department in meeting its goals effectively and efficiently by providing leadership in the application of information technology; and delivering secure, innovative, and reliable technology solutions in the most responsive and effective manner.

2006: Department of Revenue created, Division of Motor Vehicles moved. -PL 2006, chapter 246 -creates a Department of Revenue, to include a Division of Motor Vehicles, taking the division of motor vehicles away from the Department of Transportation

2008: Creation of the Office of Quality Compliance & Review within the Department of Transportation.



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