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Years of neglect drive up costs

City and state officials play catch-up after past administrations diverted funds earmarked for necessary work

LAST UPDATED: 07:09 p.m. HST, Feb 13, 2014

When roadwork doesn't get done, the effects aren't always obvious.

Often it takes years for the cracks to appear, for the asphalt to crumble — for the damage to catch up to the neglect.

On Oahu many of the degraded streets and highways giving drivers headaches today stem from budget decisions made years earlier, where public officials opted to kick routine street maintenance down the road in favor of other priorities.

"There's so much aging infrastructure on this island that people are demanding and screaming (for it) to be fixed," Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who took office in January, said last week. "There's a lot of competing demands for this money."

And the longer those road fixes are put off, the more costly they become.

"It's like changing the oil in your car" — if you wait 100,000 miles to fix it, the work will be vastly more expensive, said Ricardo Archilla, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Hawaii. Archilla is consulting the city on its pavement policy. "You want to extend the life as much as possible," he said.

But the city and state did put off the necessary work for more than a decade. Now both are paying extra for that decision as they play catch-up. So are the thousands of motorists who swerve to avoid cracks and potholes on island streets and highways each day.

As a rule of thumb, cities should spend $10,000 on average per lane-mile each year for proper upkeep, according to Stephen Muench, an associate professor at the University of Washington. (Several years ago Muench helped Hono­lulu officials develop standards for new paved roads. It required that new roads built from scratch be thicker and more durable.)

The city of Honolulu oversaw more than 3,000 lane-miles in 2002. It budgeted about $6 million that year to maintain them. It then boosted that amount to $30 million in 2006 and $44 million in 2007. The budget kept climbing: $77 million in 2009, $100 million in 2013.

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.

Next year, as the city continues to try to dig its way out of the road-repair hole created years ago, Caldwell has proposed $150 million to repave more than 300 lane-miles of bad road.

The state Department of Transportation faces a similar effort to catch up. It maintains the islands' larger thoroughfares such as the H-1 and Pali, Kame­ha­meha and Farrington highways on Oahu — major roads that elicit some of the worst complaints from motorists.

"The state is currently facing a large backlog of highway maintenance work, repairs, reconstruction and bridgework, which was affected by the recession but is also an ongoing issue," Hawaii DOT spokes­woman Caroline Sluyter said.

From 1996 to 2003 state leaders diverted more than $143 million from the State Highways Special Fund — the account used to operate, maintain and repair state-run roads — to the state's general fund. They further diverted $10 million from the fund in 2006.

Former Gov. Ben Caye­tano, who was in office most of those years, said the transfers helped at the time to salvage social programs, avoid education cuts and pay out raises given to public-sector unions through mandatory arbitration law. The move hurt highway work, but it was necessary for Hawaii to balance its budget as it coped with economic stagnation and a dearth of Japa­nese tourism in the mid-'90s, Cayetano said.

"I had to make some tough decisions," he said this month, reflecting on the state highway transfers. After he left office, "it was pretty much understood that the money that we took from the highway fund, that would be made up with an increase in the fuel tax" under his successor, Linda Lingle, Caye­tano said. But that increase didn't happen. "Taxes should have gotten raised in the aftermath because the economy was better," he added.

Lingle could not be reached for comment.

Now, with the help of recent increases to vehicle weight taxes and registration fees, the state is boosting its road-repair budget and projects, transportation officials say. Like the city, it's trying to get back on track.

It spent nearly $54 million on highway and bridge maintenance in 2011 and more than $48 million in 2012. This year the state expects to spend $86 million on that work, making it "better equipped to address our … needs although still in catch up mode," Sluyter said in a recent email.

The department has planned repairs to the H-1 and its overpasses at McCully, Kee­au­moku and Nuu­anu during spring. It also has major resurfacing scheduled this fall for Kame­­ha­- meha Highway from Wai­hau to Ka Uka, and Kalanianaole Highway from West Hind Drive to near Hanauma Bay Road.

The department also has shallow surface repairs planned for Pali Highway this fall, ahead of a larger and more comprehensive resurfacing in fall 2014, and several other highway projects in the works.

There were other factors that helped lead to Hawaii's roads being in such poor shape.

"It's a combination of increased population, increased traffic," city Department of Facility Maintenance Director Ross Sasa­mura said recently. "There are bigger and heavier vehicles using the road today than what was in place and what was in use when they were originally designed."

With Oahu's space limitations, cars and trucks often have to share the same roads, he said, while some of downtown Hono­lulu's roads are more than a century old. "We were doing fairly well in maintaining streets up until the 1980s," when a population boom brought unprecedented traffic to the island, Sasa­mura added.

Recent increases in vehicle fuel efficiency — a national goal to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions — has also led to fewer gas tax revenues for roadwork nationwide, including Hawaii, said Hamid Baha­dori, a Los Angeles-based transportation engineer for the Auto Club of America. Those gas tax revenues are going down at the same time construction costs are rising, he said.

The recent recession both helped and hurt road maintenance, Baha­dori said. It eroded the tax dollars used for roadwork, but it also reduced the wear and tear on roads, with drivers logging fewer miles in their cars, he said.

"I don't think anyone willingly disregards the need for roads," Sasa­mura said, "but there are other things that place demands."




More From The Star-Advertiser

Mayor maps route to repave, fix roads

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what wrote:
Quote: budget decisions where public officials opted to kick routine street maintenance down the road in favor of other priorities. Translation: officials raided road funds and ripped the taxpayers off. Caldwell should not treat the taxpayers like an ATM and should give us what we already paid for. We already pay among the highest gas taxes int he nation. fix the roads within the confines of current revenues, don't raise taxes. If it takes a bit longer, so be it. Raise transit fares to a fair share of transit expenses instead of raiding the road fund.
on March 25,2013 | 01:52AM
goodday wrote:
our GET is extremely low. he can't just pull money out of the air
on March 25,2013 | 05:13AM
bender wrote:
GET is a state thing. I believe what is speaking about Caldwell who is Mayor, not Governor. In any case, our GET pyriaminds, meaining everytime goods change hands they are taxed. It is estimated that if you add it all up, that taxes on a particular item might be 10-11%. Does that satisfy your need for a higher sales tax?
on March 25,2013 | 06:01AM
OldDiver wrote:
Caldwell is not responsible for the years of neglect, but as Mayor has taken on the job of coming up with solutions. What's done is done, time to fix the problem.
on March 25,2013 | 07:02AM
OldDiver wrote:
Well there you have it. It was none other than the mighty anti-rail leader Ben Cayetano who diverted funds away from highway repair to balance his budget in the same way he used the State retirement fund to balance his budget. Ben then kicked the can down the road for Lingle to raise taxes. Wonderful!
on March 25,2013 | 07:23AM
niimi wrote:
And she got caught holding the bag. It's Lingle's fault! LOL
on March 25,2013 | 07:58AM
Graham wrote:
Isn't always the fault of Lingle and Bush...
on March 25,2013 | 08:46AM
what wrote:
Out GET tax is one of the highest nation. It is not low. One of the biggest tricks Hawaii ever pulled was to have a excise tax, not a sales tax. An excise tax is charge multiple times, so you must double or triple it to compare it to a sales tax. Our GET is more like a 10%-12% sales tax. Please educate yourself before you say it's low.
on March 25,2013 | 12:30PM
localguy wrote:
Actually you can blame every elected bureaucrat going back decades for our problems, not just one. They all failed to do their job, many of them raided the funds for pet projects. Unions didn't help either, not ensuring their workers did the job right, just show up, slap it down, move on, get paid. Losers all of them.
on March 25,2013 | 08:16AM
false wrote:
I'm not really an anti railer but your comment "what's done is done" is inane. You know very well that past administration was holding on to get the rail moving thus road decayed as a result as well as other services.
on March 25,2013 | 09:21AM
kaeleku wrote:
It's Harris's fault. He took all the funds for his "District Projects", canoe halaus, community signs, etc.
on March 25,2013 | 10:12AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Don't forget Jeremy's book.
on March 25,2013 | 12:31PM
jakwa wrote:
Don't forget the money wasted on the Natatorium and we still can't use it...auwe!
on March 25,2013 | 03:47PM
Kawipoo wrote:
OldDiver the local commie.
on March 25,2013 | 02:22PM
niimi wrote:
Tax gasoline and diesel fuel. The gas tax has not been raised in two decades.
on March 25,2013 | 07:57AM
bender wrote:
It worked for Mufi. He was able to push through an accelerated sewer fee increase schedule because his predecessor kept delaying repairs to the sewer system. The problem is that Mufi's schedule was too agressive and home owners and renters are suffering from those extrremely high fees. Yet sewer repairs and upgrades are still going at a leisurely pace even though the fee schedule is overly agressive.
on March 25,2013 | 05:58AM
Wazdat wrote:
what B $ MOFEE fought the EPA the whole way.
on March 25,2013 | 06:02AM
OldDiver wrote:
The city is now in compliance with the courts because of Mufi's efforts. He really had no choice but to comply.
on March 25,2013 | 07:03AM
mijlive wrote:
then why did he waste our tax money in court fighting the ruling?
on March 25,2013 | 08:46AM
allie wrote:
on March 25,2013 | 11:54AM
Pocho wrote:
with the gas tac money diverted like this, there's shouldn't be any gas tax hike at all. Raise the GET sales tax, the are doing for the C&C Rail job
on March 25,2013 | 06:57AM
HLOEWEN wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on March 25,2013 | 02:35AM
joewilly wrote:
The answer is to vote Republican? I need to remind you that Michigan has the sixth highest unemployment rate in the country. Detroit has turned into a wasteland, ask your boy George Bush why. The answer is not in politics. The answer is accountability, fiscal management, along with an attitude change in the city.
on March 25,2013 | 04:35AM
tiki886 wrote:
The unions destroyed Detroit. If Bush had had his way, he'd a nuked Detroit a long time ago.
on March 25,2013 | 06:55AM
wiliki wrote:
Republicans nixed much stimulus funding in Congress that could have gone for potholes and other infrastructure repair.
on March 25,2013 | 08:23AM
Kuniarr wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on March 25,2013 | 11:23AM
wiliki wrote:
The stimulus wasn't enough to pull us completely out of the great recession. We should have spent double what we spend on the stimulus.
on March 25,2013 | 03:32PM
JayDeeL wrote:
In Michigan where I live, the potholes are destroying tires, axles, and suspension systems to the average tune of $1500 per hit. One single pothole took out five tires Thursday and by the time the TV reporters got there, eleven more were flattened. Our problems are compounded by our mentally challenged leglislators in Lansing permitting huge axle loads on Michigan Highways. I only wish I had Hawaii's pothole problems, not Michigan's.
on March 25,2013 | 08:56AM
allie wrote:
our roads are fine in North Dakota as we have huge state surpluses due to the massive Bakken oil boom
on March 25,2013 | 11:55AM
eoe wrote:
"In Michigan where I live" - what, Grosse Pointe? I've been to Michigan, nice try.
on March 25,2013 | 05:50PM
toomuchpilikia wrote:
I have come to realize that the maintenance of our roads in Honolulu is a low priority. Like our National deficit.....a low priority! About 20 plus years ago Honolulu started down this path of not maintaining its roads and parks. Unfortunantely, "It is what it is" until the populous makes a change for the better....and I don't see that happening anytime soon!
on March 25,2013 | 04:27AM
wiliki wrote:
It's jobs jobs jobs.... our unemployment rate is too high. This should be our highest priority... At least Democrats know that. Republicans don't have the foggiest notion.
on March 25,2013 | 08:24AM
Kuniarr wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on March 25,2013 | 11:28AM
wiliki wrote:
Romney creates jobs for the upper most 2% of the taxpayers.
on March 25,2013 | 03:30PM
Smiley7 wrote:
How about contracting out to the mainland firms? We may get better results and smoother roads. Ever notice how crooked the lane stripes/reflectors are? Have you seen that on the mainland? Look at the road work on the freeway from the PC off ramp to the Waipahu off ramp. There are so many spots that have received no attention at all. What about the inspectors or do we even have them? For decades we have put up with the poor roads and the fun loving Dems who get voted in office treat us like serfs. Auwe!
on March 25,2013 | 04:40AM
goodday wrote:
should we give your job away to mainland firms to see if they could do it better?
on March 25,2013 | 05:14AM
Malani wrote:
If the same old people year after year doing the same job on our roads, Yep, it would be a good idea to hire from the mainland, then we can compare who does the better job.
on March 25,2013 | 08:10AM
wiliki wrote:
Nope... we need supervisors and engineers to insure that the work is done correctly.
on March 25,2013 | 08:25AM
Kuniarr wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on March 25,2013 | 11:30AM
wiliki wrote:
I disagree. Work has mostly been done correctly.
on March 25,2013 | 03:29PM
sailfish1 wrote:
We have engineers and supervisors with the City and State. Problem is the work done in the past still doesn't last. Evidently Hawaii engineers and supervisors aren't doing their job or do not know how it's supposed to be done.
on March 25,2013 | 09:37PM
LittleEarl_01 wrote:
"But the city and state did put off the necessary work for more than a decade. Now both are paying extra for that decision as they play catch-up." W
on March 25,2013 | 04:48AM
LittleEarl_01 wrote:
"But the city and state did put off the necessary work for more than a decade. Now both are paying extra for that decision as they play catch-up." WRONG! The city and state aren't paying extra, the taxpayers will the ones paying.
on March 25,2013 | 04:50AM
Wazdat wrote:
Total INCOMPETENCE nothing new here
on March 25,2013 | 06:01AM
bender wrote:
From previous news stories on tihs subject we know that the city has allocated more than enough money to fix our roads. In those stories it was explained that a single contractor won most of the road repair bids and couldn't fulfill his end of the deal because they had too much work. That sounds like a procurement problem and not because we weren't allocating enough money. One thing that bothers me is if City Trans is givin $100 million to repair the roads but only a portion of it gets spent, what happened to the rest of it? I have a sneaky suspicion that it ended up being spent on rail because it's no longer available for road repairs.
on March 25,2013 | 06:08AM
OldDiver wrote:
Bender, you suspicions are ridiculous.
on March 25,2013 | 07:05AM
Malani wrote:
OldDiver, bender is correct is stating his remarks. No one is held accountable how the monies are spent and it is taken for granted it went to where is was suppose to go to. I say this again when the monies are spent the balance sheet need to be produced to account that this is where the monies went and how much item by item it was paid for. A penny here and a penny there adds up big time.
on March 25,2013 | 08:17AM
allie wrote:
on March 25,2013 | 12:19PM
loquaciousone wrote:
Don't we have 5.6 billion to spend on our roads?
on March 25,2013 | 06:59AM
soundofreason wrote:
"Former Gov. Ben Caye­tano, who was in office most of those years, said the transfers helped at the time to salvage social programs,">>>>> Ahhh - The blessed "social programs".........again.
on March 25,2013 | 07:01AM
loquaciousone wrote:
You wouldn't want EBT card users to eat regular food like those of us who have to pay for our own food do you?
on March 25,2013 | 07:36AM
soundofreason wrote:
God forbid.
on March 25,2013 | 08:10AM
Malani wrote:
I don't own a EBT card and have to pay for my own food, but aren't we only eating regular food? I thought EBT cardholders ate better than regular foods.
on March 25,2013 | 08:20AM
soundofreason wrote:
They do. He was being sarcastic.
on March 25,2013 | 07:23PM
niimi wrote:
Tax fuel more. The gas tax hasn't been raised in two decades. Then the gas guzzlers that drive the progressively heaviest vehicles pay their fair share.
on March 25,2013 | 07:57AM
Ronin006 wrote:
There is no need to raise the fuel tax if the taxes are used as intended - to repair and maintain roads.
on March 25,2013 | 08:24AM
localguy wrote:
Talk and spend all you want. Unless we retrain our road repair workers to match the quality of the world experts, the Japanese, and use a quality road repair process and materials, nothing will change. As it is now, skim coats peel off in no time. Kam IV highway by the HPD/HFD stations has new potholes coming up, road was resurfaced a short time ago, same shoddy process. Face it, we are falling behind other countries and states with our low quality road work. Highway going Ewa, just past Navy exchange is cracking, sinking, sliding downhill, been like this for years. Bad design and work, no one cares. I'll believe our bureaucrats when I see five years of serious road work and the ends of the shovel slop job patching process. Do it right the first time.
on March 25,2013 | 08:14AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Millions of tax dollars collected for road maintenance and repair has been used for other purposes. Politicians call it “diversion;” I call it robbery.
on March 25,2013 | 08:15AM
localguy wrote:
You can also call it "Rail"
on March 25,2013 | 08:18AM
iwanaknow wrote:
We need lousy roads therefore people drive more slowly therefore less accidents?
on March 25,2013 | 08:21AM
wiliki wrote:
This is the kind of infrastructure work should have been funded with federal stimulus money. The Republicans in Congress have knocked this out of reach for the state and local govts.
on March 25,2013 | 08:22AM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
Seriously? You want to blame the republicans in congress for decades of mismanagement by the State of Hawaii and City and County of Honolulu?
on March 25,2013 | 08:36AM
wiliki wrote:
Taxes haven't been very popular to raise. We get exactly what we can pay for.
on March 25,2013 | 03:27PM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
wiliki wrote: "We get exactly what we can pay for."

I would LOVE it if we got just 1/2 what we paid for. Instead we get incompetent pothole repair and illegal dumping at overtime pay rates and the it's THE TAXPAYERS who get fined for the malfeasance of the Dept of Facilities Management and the City.
on March 25,2013 | 05:40PM
dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
There you go Wiliki, always wanting to spend other people's money. Federal funds come from thin air right?
on March 25,2013 | 09:03AM
wiliki wrote:
Nope.... feds have ways of raising funds that the states and local govt does not have.
on March 25,2013 | 03:28PM
Kuniarr wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on March 25,2013 | 11:36AM
wiliki wrote:
This happens when we're in tough economic times. And yes, we do need Fed money at a time like this.
on March 25,2013 | 03:28PM
dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
Why is it that on the freeways, there are portions that have a thin layer of asphalt over the concrete? The edges invariably peel at the edges.
on March 25,2013 | 09:05AM
localguy wrote:
dontbelieveinmyths - Exactly. This is called "Skimming" where unions "skim" money from other areas to make up work when none is needed. In California concrete highways do not have asphalt skim coats. There is no sane reason to put an asphalt skim coat over concrete. Only in the Nei is this wasteful use of tax payer's money standard practice.
on March 25,2013 | 10:24AM
hilopango wrote:
Problem: too many vehicles on the road, causing traffic congestion and road wear. Solution: increase the vehicle registration fees for any private-use cars that exceed two per family. The first two cars would pay the standard registration fee, the third car registered to that family would pay 25% more, the fourth car would pay 50% more. The increase in the fees would go towards repairing the roads.
on March 25,2013 | 11:39AM
lowtone123 wrote:
I like your idea if we were sure the funds would go where it's supposed to.
on March 25,2013 | 12:58PM
lowtone123 wrote:
The root of many city problems can be traced back to Harris. He had so many beautification projects that basic infrasructure was neglected. Mufi took over and had to move before the EPA started fining the city millions of $$$. Carlisle never met a camera he didn't like. Now Caldwell has a daunting task of repairing what has been neglected.
on March 25,2013 | 12:54PM
loquaciousone wrote:
Caldwell never met a camera he didn't want to marry.
on March 25,2013 | 01:21PM
lajekal wrote:
As per the ATA the cost of Bad Roads to a Hawaii driver is $589 / year for repairs, wear and tear and operating cost. As per the City the "average" cost of the additional fuel tax to fix the bad roads is $21/yr The City Council already decide we did not want to pay the $21/yr, we would rather pay the repair cost..very smart?
on March 25,2013 | 01:15PM
sailfish1 wrote:
The government should not be diverting funds from a fund designated for specific work (in this case roads) to the general fund. They keep doing that and spending the money on possibly unneeded lower priority programs. Then when we need the money for the roads, it's not there
on March 25,2013 | 09:41PM
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