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Roadwork practices slammed in '05 audit

Inadequate funding, poor record keeping and hastily fixed potholes are among criticisms mentioned in the report

By Marcel Honoré /

LAST UPDATED: 7:08 p.m. HST, Feb 13, 2014

After a growing chorus of Hono­lulu motorists complained that thousands of potholes plaguing the streets were wrecking their cars, the city auditor's office decided to take a hard look at its roadwork practices.

It issued a scathing 87-page report, saying the city did not adequately fund its roadwork, lacked cohesive street maintenance policies and failed to meet most of the industry's best practices.

That was eight years ago.

The report, a June 2005 audit of the city's road maintenance practices that was released shortly after Mufi Hannemann became mayor, shows the crisis over Hono­lulu's roads is nothing new.

Honolulu's new mayor, Kirk Caldwell, is making a highly publicized push to fix the crumbling streets — but city officials made recommendations years earlier to help improve the roads. A limited number of those suggestions finally took effect in the past year or so.

"I took it as one my personal initiatives to ramp up road repaving," Caldwell said last week. "I can't talk about past practices," he added, referring to the era before he joined the city as Hono­lulu's managing director under Hannemann in 2009.

The 2005 audit examined the Department of Facility Maintenance, which coordinates roadwork as well as maintenance of other city equipment — buildings, signs, vehicles and streetlights, among other items. DFM also handles the smaller-scale fixes such as pothole patches. The city's Department of Design and Construction handles the major repaving using recommendations from DFM.

Oahu motorists have long complained about the poor condition of our roads, prompting Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s new plans to spend $150 million to get ahead of the problem. The Star-Advertiser, along with media partner Hawaii News Now, takes an in-depth look at the state of our roads.


>> Star-Advertiser: For years, city and state governments put off maintenance and repair of roadways and diverted funds to other priorities. Also, critics wonder whether the city can pull off its plan to spend big money on road repairs.
>> Hawaii News Now: Tonight, will a more expensive asphalt product keep our road repairs in place longer than the next heavy rain?


>> For nine days we will print full-page maps of each City Council district highlighting road conditions in each area.

The audit found that DFM failed to fully meet 22 of 24 road maintenance best practices.

Its road maintenance division kept poor records and relied on workers in the field to make repair judgment calls, the report found. The division had quality repair materials, but workers hastily repaired potholes with what's called a "grip-and-rip" technique, where potholes were filled and compacted with a shovel.

There were problems outside the division's control, too. It was poorly funded. Key department positions stayed vacant and were hard to fill. Notably, the report singled out Hannemann's predecessor, former Mayor Jeremy Harris, for diverting road workers to other tasks — including at least 5,600 road maintenance-worker hours spent helping on the popular public "Sunset on the Beach" events.

"Overtime payments for these diversions were costly and may have adversely impacted the department's budget," the audit stated.

The number of lane-miles paved also plunged shortly before and throughout Harris' years in office — while the number of smaller, short-term road fixes spiked. In 1989 the city repaved 319 lane-miles, compared with 45 lane-miles repaved in 1994. That number rebounded somewhat in 2001, up to about 150 lane-miles, but by 2004 it had crept back down to about 60.

In 2002 the city reported patching more than 38,000 potholes. In 2004 it patched nearly 70,000.

Attempts to reach Harris for comment for this story were unsuccessful.

The report recommended better funding and adequate resources so the city could do a better, more cost-effective job keeping up its city roads.

In the wake of the 2005 report, Hono­lulu did boost its road repair budgets. But the city appears to have done little to improve its road repair practices in the years afterward.

In a recent email exchange with the Star-Advertiser, Ross Sasa­mura, who previously served as DFM director from 1999 to 2001 and took the job again this year, did not address most of the best-practice issues raised in the report. The road maintenance division "responded to the 2005 audit to the extent that it was possible with the operating and (capital) budgets it was afforded," he wrote.

Road repairs and more frequent surveys of street conditions ought to be a higher priority, the city auditor's office found.

The road maintenance division should avoid a "worst-first" philosophy, where workers fix only the worst roads and allow them to deteriorate into expensive problems before they get attention.

It wasn't until 2012 that the City Council approved what it described as a "long overdue" policy establishing Hono­lulu's standards for road conditions. That policy called for road crews to repair streets in decent shape — so they last longer — instead of simply addressing the worst ones first. It also called on the city to work with University of Hawaii experts and pavement industry experts to help shape its road repair policies.

The 2005 audit also recommended annual road condition surveys as a best practice. Sasa­mura said last week that wouldn't be necessary for all the city's roads, since not all of them see drastic change from year to year or accommodate heavy traffic.

Ricardo Archilla, a UH associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, is drafting a report aimed at helping Hono­lulu better maintain its roads. The report draws from methods Archilla has studied in other states, and he expects it to be completed in the next several weeks. It's not clear yet when it would be made public.

"Like anybody else, I saw the results, and those were not great," Archilla, who has spent 11 years at UH, said of road repairs done in the past decade. "It's very difficult to put the finger on what the problem was."


In 2005, Honolulu's city auditor examined whether the city's road maintenance division followed industry best practices. In most cases it didn't. Here are some highlights:

Best practice: "Pothole patching. Use high quality materials."
Does the city comply? Yes.
Comment: "For pothole patching, the division generally uses an asphalt/
concrete mix, which is adequate."

Best practice: "Pothole patching. Place — do not throw — material in the patch area."
Does the city comply? Somewhat.
Comment: "According to road crew members we interviewed, sometimes, there are so many potholes that crews don't have time to construct a perfect patch. They often apply a 'grip-and-rip' technique where the pothole is filled and is compacted with a shovel."

Best practice: "The city has allocated funding to support the annual maintenance and surface treatment programs, and has allocated a consistent level of funding."
Does the city comply? No.
Comment: "Funding levels are inconsistent and do not always address portions of the annual rehabilitation needs."

Best practice: "Reduce repetitive activity by taking permanent corrective action."
Does the city comply? No.
Comment: "Over the last several years, resurfacing and reconstruction activities have been minimal; short-term fixes have been more prevalent. A division employee acknowledged that some potholes have been patched more than once."

Best practice: "By sticking to regularly scheduled maintenance tasks, agencies can decrease the accumulation of water in the subgrade and road base, reducing potholes."
Does the city comply? No.
Comment: "The division does not schedule road maintenance on a regular basis."


The state Department of Transportation is facing its own backlog of major road repairs, and the agency is working to catch up. Here's a look at what it has planned:


Deck repair and p.m. contra-flow
» H-1 freeway between Pearl City and Waipahu exits Ongoing through $82 million
in the westbound lanes, followed by eastbound lanes late sumer 2014
» Extend the Pearl City viaduct between the Pearl City onramp
and the Waipahu exit to add an auxiliary lane
» Re-stripe a portion of the H-1 freeway westbound from
the Aiea pedestrian overpass to the Pearl City exit
» Evening contra-flow similar to the morning ZipperLane
Rehabilitation of a portion of the freeway in both directions
» H-1 portion from Middle Street to the vicinity of Ward Avenue Summer 2013 $40 million
Major rehabilitation/resurfacing project
» Kamehameha Highway from Waihau Street to Ka Uka Boulevard Fall 2013 $13 million
Major resurfacing
» Mokapu Road from North Kalaheo Avenue to Kapaa Quarry Road In progress $5.7 million
» Kalanianaole Highway from West Hind Drive to vicinity Fall 2013 $14 million
of Hanauma Bay Road
» Kahuapaani Street from Salt Lake Boulevard to Moanalua Freeway March 2013 $1.3 million
Deck repairs
» H-1 freeway Airport Viaduct, Spring 2013 $26 million
vicinity of Valkenburgh to Middle streets
Maintenance surface-type repairs
» H-1 overpasses at McCully and Keeaumoku streets, and Nuuanu Avenue Spring 2013 $800,000
(bridges plus the street portion below in the state right of way)
» Bingham Street, H-1 offramp to Isenberg Street Summer 2013 $400,000
» Farrington Highway, Kaukonahua Road to Goodale Circle Summer 2013 $500,000
» H-201 westbound Exit 1-E by Aloha Stadium/Halawa Summer 2013 $300,000
Maintenance surface-type repairs in spot areas
» Kamehameha Highway, vicinity of Pali Momi to Aiea Stream Spring 2013 $600,000
» Mokapu Saddle Road from H-3 to Kapaa Quarry Road Tentatively for $400,000
  summer 2013
» Pali Highway in both directions * Early fall 2013 $400,000
* A quick-fix shallow resurfacing that will be done as an interim measure.
A larger, more comprehensive resurfacing is scheduled for fall 2014.
Source: Hawaii Department of Transportation

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