DOT IN CRISIS: Hawaii lawmakers freeze improvement projects, cite lack of funding

Aug. 4, 2016

Lawmakers’ decision to not pass a gas tax has forced the department of transportation to resort to a maintenance-only strategy for near future

The Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT), in response to state lawmakers’ scuttling of a controversial gas tax proposal, has ceased work and planning on dozens of highway development and improvement projects.

According to State Highways Division Deputy Director Ed Sniffen, the state lacks the funding necessary to do much more than standard maintenance.

“It would be very difficult for me to justify moving forward with building new roads if I can't maintain the ones I already have,” Sniffen said.

Of 72 planned highway projects, only six will be moving forward. 

On Oahu, only one project is authorized, with 14 deferred. On Maui, four projects are moving ahead, with 17 in stasis. On Hawaii Island, one improvement is scheduled, and 19 others are sidelined, while plans for all 16 Kauai projects are now on hold.

“It's not a no. We're still developing, we're still moving forward on the projects should the time come that we have the funding, and we're moving forward with operational improvements now to make sure that we affect things as soon as possible,” Sniffen said. “We know that in 10 years this whole model of transportation may flip, so for me to build new roads and bypasses that may not be utilized, I don't want to expend the money like that. I would much rather set up the system with improvements that can be used now that can set the system up to be flexible in the future.”

Gov. David Ige says states across the country are facing similar difficulties funding major infrastructure projects, despite the advent of the FAST Act.

Lawmakers have accused Ige recently of withholding state funding to force passage of the controversial state gas, weigh and vehicle tax increase.

“They were fully aware prior to session starting, all the way to every hearing that we had on the proposal, about what the consequences of not funding it would be,” Ige responded. “We were very clear and transparent prior to session in presenting the case for the gas, the fuel, the vehicle weight tax program. We only had so much resources and advocated that the increase in fees and taxes would give us the additional resources to implement the programs. Lacking that, we would be focused on maintenance and those lower costs projects that would get us more immediate impact.”

State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, whose district includes Waianae, says her constituents are among those who will be impacted. A project to widen a portion of Farrington Highway to help alleviate West Oahu congestion is among those put on hold.

“It's very disappointing for all of us on the Waianae coast because that would have made a tremendous difference,” Shimabukuro said. “The administration is taking this difficult position that's not popular obviously because it's something that's long overdue and is needed because of our growing population and the growing traffic woes that we all face everyday.”

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