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Concerns arise over $150M repair plan

Council members have doubts the city can spend that much in a year, but the mayor remains confident

By Marcel Honoré /

LAST UPDATED: 7:07 p.m. HST, Feb 13, 2014

Darrell Goo, vice president of operations for Grace Pacific Corp., has been with the company since 1992. The company is one of three contractors on Oahu bidding for city road repaving projects. He's never seen so much work out to bid for the city of Hono­lulu as there is right now.

Business is good. It's so good that Goo's not sure all the work available could even be done in a year.

"It's hard to answer because we've never done that much," Goo said. "Anything beyond $100 million, that's going to be a challenge."

<t-7>Much has been made of Mayor Kirk Caldwell's plan to spend $150 million in the next fiscal year to repave roads, an endeavor he had hoped to pay for with a gas tax increase. But some public officials have questioned whether the city could get all that spending out the door in a single year, converting all those dollars into smoother roads across Hono­lulu in a relatively short time.

"Last year we went to the budget … but the administration kept testifying against it," City Councilwoman Ann Koba­ya­shi said in February, referring to this year's road repair budget of $100 million. That's up from $77 million the prior year.

"They can't even do $77 million. How are they going to do $150 million?" Koba­ya­shi wondered.

On Wednesday, Councilman Stanley Chang contended that almost all of $100 million the Council earmarked last year for road repaving has yet to be spent. Caldwell disagreed, saying it simply takes time to process all the contracts.

Honolulu Department of Design and Construction Director Chris Taka­shige acknowledges he lobbied before the City Council against boosting this year's roadwork budget. He believed it called for more spending than the city could release in a year, facing low bids from the paving contractors on Oahu and the city's own limited staff.

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.

However, so far they've been able to spend the cash, Taka­shige said, by breaking up big projects into smaller contracts, and by tightening the time constraints. "It's been working," Taka­shige said. "No doubt it's a struggle to spend those large amounts of money, but we did it."

If the city opts to spend $150 million, he might need to hire more staff to handle the volume — but it's hard to make the call "until I see the workload and the budget," he said.

Caldwell says he met with members of the operating engineers union before announcing his plan, and they assured him the work could be done. When he was managing director, Caldwell said, the city put out $188 million in roadwork in an 18-month period. That included work budgeted in earlier years that hadn't been done, members of Caldwell's staff said.

In the past week the city released five new jobs to bid worth about $40 million total, Goo said.

Caldwell was hoping that his proposed 5-cent gas tax increase would generate $15 million to help pay for the added road budget, but the City Council rejected it with a 6-3 vote Wednesday — raising questions of how Honolulu will find that amount.

The city will have to make up the difference using its general fund, Caldwell said.


Star-Advertiser reporter Gordon Y.K. Pang contributed to this story.

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