The editorial piece “DOT must explain road priorities” published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser Friday, July 8, 2016 contained highly inaccurate information.
HDOT understands people are concerned about postponing large capacity projects. However, building new and expensive roads does not make sense if the State does not have the money to maintain the roads it already has. From a practical perspective, the focus on system preservation and safety makes sense and is supported by Federal legislation.
As it has stated, HDOT is working with the budget and funding available and focusing on preservation and safety projects to repair the aging infrastructure, improve the ride ability and dependability of the system. In order to fund this, the HDOT will not be moving forward with capacity projects which focus on building expensive new roads, have higher impacts to the environment and take much longer to complete.
Per Governor David Ige’s initiatives, HDOT is moving forward with cheaper operational improvements that can be implemented quicker than the larger projects. HDOT will add a contraflow lane during the peak afternoon travel periods in Nanakuli, it will repurpose shoulders into shoulder lanes during peak commute times, and will be adding a second zipper lane. It has already increased the hours for shoulder and zipper lanes on the H-1 Freeway and adjusted HOV lanes to allow more users. These operational improvements will continue statewide, in partnership with county agencies, to increase the efficiency.
The Department’s priorities have been consistent and the rationale for the proposed increases in user fees was widely circulated.
HDOT leadership explained the need for additional revenues to make investments on system preservation and safety, while continuing the capacity building program. They discussed the impacts to the program should funding not be increased on numerous occasions with the public, lawmakers and media. A detailed Frequently Asked Questions document regarding HB2409/SB2938, the user fee increase bills, was sent to every lawmaker in March (click HDOT FAQ to view the document). HDOT leadership requested meetings with each lawmaker to discuss the Department’s needs and the impacts of not receiving the additional funding. The user fee increase bills were discussed at various public meetings, including Pearl City on February 18, Aiea on March 22 and Mililani on March 23, 2016.
The proposals were the subject of numerous media stories, including in the Honolulu Star Advertiser. The stories clearly state HDOT is shifting resources toward system preservation over capacity projects. A few of these stories are listed below. This is also not a new discussion as previous administrations had broached this subject with the community and Legislature.
The $37 million approved by the State Legislature this last session will be used to expedite more special maintenance projects and is very much appreciated. However, it is a one-time infusion of funds that HDOT will not be able to sustain a capacity program with.
It is important to understand that the HDOT is self-sustained. General Fund money is not used to build, operate, or maintain the highways system. Historically, HDOT does not receive money from the General Excise Tax (GET), income tax or sales tax. Instead money comes from the State Highway Fund, which is supported by those who own vehicles and buy fuel. The user fees – gas tax, registration fee, and vehicle weight fee – and the Federal apportionment are the primary sources of funding.
While the newspaper’s editorial staff evidently did not understand the impacts of the user fee proposals, the message was communicated long before the final vote in the Legislature. With the needs of the highways system outweighing available funding the discussions will continue.
Honolulu Star Advertiser, Kevin Dayton, Jan. 28, 2016
State Department of Transportation officials warned lawmakers earlier this year that collections from the existing state gas tax are expected to grow at an average rate of only one-half of 1 percent a year, which will limit the amount of highway work the state will be able to do in the years ahead.
With vehicles becoming more efficient or using alternative fuels, the gas tax is becoming a less effective way to fund public highways, lawmakers were told. Statewide, fuel consumption is not expected to keep pace with the increasing cost of highway maintenance or the public’s demand for highway improvements.
AP article in the Star Advertiser Feb. 21, 2016
“Due to the limitation of funding, the overall priority for the department is to improve safety and preserve the system of roads and bridges that we currently have,” Sakahara said. “As such, we are prioritizing roadway and bridge improvement projects over capacity and congestion relief moving forward.”
Honolulu Star Advertiser, Marcel Honore, Feb. 23, 2016
“Currently, about 80 percent of all new dollars in the DOT budget go toward preserving existing roadways, with the remaining 20 percent going to “capacity upgrades” — construction projects such as building new roadways or widening existing ones, Fuchigami said Monday. Under previous administrations the allocation was more of a 50-50 split, he added.”
Honolulu Star Advertiser, Sophie Cocke, March 1, 2016
“The amount of cars and people continue to rise, but our ability to add more lanes for drivers is severely limited due to land restrictions and funding,” Transportation Department officials wrote in testimony on the bill. “We simply cannot build ourselves out of congestion. Therefore, HDOT is focusing its resources toward making the system that we have work better.”
KHON, Kristine Uyeno, March 10, 2016
In its testimony to lawmakers, the Department of Transportation said, “We simply cannot build ourselves out of congestion… HDOT is focusing its resources toward making the system that we have work better.”
The state says 80 percent of highway funds are used to repave, repair and rebuild transportation systems.
HNN, Allyson Blair, March 23, 2016
But Sniffen said while drivers won’t see tax hikes, they’ll still have to pay.
“A lot of the additional lane projects are going to be affected,” he said. “Because our priority is going to be first on the preservation and safety side, anything that adds new lanes that I can’t maintain I’m not going to build.”
Civil Beat, Nathan Eagle, March 23, 2016
(Ed Sniffen) said preservation and safety are the department’s top concerns, and the lack of new state funding could delay plans to widen highways on the east side of Oahu and other projects.