Thursday, November 26, 2015         


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Traffic solutions among key issues in District 36 campaign

By Rosemarie Bernardo


Traffic congestion is a daily challenge for Central Oahu residents.

The problem is one that Demo­cratic incumbent state Rep. Mari­lyn Lee and Republican candidate Beth Fuku­moto plan to address if elected to represent state House District 36, which encompasses Mililani, Mililani Mauka and Wai­pio Acres.

Representing Mililani and Wai­pio since 1996, Lee, 72, and other lawmakers backed a study this past legislative session to look at ways to reduce traffic. Lee is a member of the House Transportation Committee and vice chairwoman of the Finance Committee. She said about $350,000 was appropriated for the study, which includes looking at traffic faced by Mililani Mauka residents.

Richard Poirier, chairman of the Mili­lani/Wai­pio/Mele­manu Neighborhood Board, said traffic will get worse if development projects such as Koa Ridge proceed. In June the state Land Use Commission unanimously approved construction of the Castle & Cooke project, which includes 5,000 homes, a hospital and commercial center on more than 750 acres of farmland between Mili­lani and Wai­pio.

Poirier said it already takes motorists an hour and 15 minutes each way to go between home and town during peak traffic hours. "It just gets worse and worse and worse," he said. If projects like Koa Ridge go ahead, about 50,000 more people could potentially move to Central Oahu and increase commute times to two hours each way, he said.

"You're going to get a hard time getting out of your driveway. It's going to back up and back up," said Poirier.

Dean Hazama, chairman of the Mili­lani Mauka/Lau­nani Valley Neighborhood Board, said roadways are clogged in the mornings after the state cut school bus service on a number of routes, affecting Mili­lani Middle School students who live in Mili­lani Mauka. More parents are forced to drive their children to school, exacerbating morning traffic, he said.

As chairwoman of the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, Lee said the group plans to look at several proposals, such as an emergency exit for Mili­lani Mauka. "There has to be another way to get out. There is only one way in and one way out of Mili­lani Mauka," she said.

Lee was instrumental in pushing legislation to allow repairs to Kipapa Gulch Bridge to begin as soon as possible. "There's a long history of accidents," she said of the 82-year-old bridge between Wai­pio Gentry and Mili­lani. There is no shoulder on the two-lane bridge. Work will include lane widening and shoring up the bridge, which has a 16-ton maximum capacity.

If re-elected, Lee said she also plans to tackle the economy and jobs to ensure opportunities are available for youth. "Our community is still growing," she said. "We have a lot of potential of development for small businesses, home care, home nursing, retail. …

"We need to make sure there are opportunities for high school seniors and (college and university) graduates returning home from the mainland."

Lee and her late husband, former state Rep. Sam Lee, raised their four children in Mili­lani. "I have deep roots in my community," she said. "I have a long service. I am always working for the future improvement of the community."

Fukumoto, 29, said she wants to address residents' traffic woes by making sure money in the state highway fund is used to improve roads and not raided for other projects. As director of research for the House Minority Caucus at the Legislature, Fuku­moto headed a project to keep track of procurement, permitting and construction processes of road projects to ensure efficiency by the state Transportation Department and other agencies.

A main problem, she said, is that there has been a lack of compromise and communication among lawmakers to address issues that include how to best alleviate traffic gridlock.

"We're not getting things done because we're not talking to each other. All the community wants is to just fix traffic," Fuku­moto said. "It's frustrating."

It comes down to getting a fresh perspective, she said. "Sometimes you need a fresh eye to look at a problem," she said.

She said she decided to run for the House seat to address fiscal accountability and transparency. "Within the last two years, we didn't see a significant improvement in the state, in economy and government practices," said Fuku­moto, adding that there has been mismanagement of funds. "To me that's really problematic. We need to increase transparency and need to get people in there to be more hands-on."

This is the second time Fuku­moto is running for a House seat. In 2010 she was defeated by Rep. Ryan Yamane to represent District 37, which covers Wai­pahu and Mili­lani.

Fukumoto worked as chief of staff for state Rep. Gene Ward before she became research director for the House Minority Caucus.

"I have the energy and experience to be able to really be hands-on at the Legislature," she said.

Fukumoto has lived in Mili­lani since she was a child. She recently married David Chang, chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party. They reside in Mili­lani Mauka.

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