Lawmakers have made public a long list of state construction projects worth $1.57 billion that state departments believe are “shovel ready” so that construction can start quickly to give the economy a badly needed lift.
Many of the state projects are already funded so that no action by the Legislature is required, but some lawmakers were skeptical that each one of the projects is actually ready to roll.
More than half of the work is planned by the state Department of Transportation’s airports and harbors divisions — which are not known for rapidly completing their construction projects — while other major players are the University of Hawaii system and the state Department of Public Safety.
In a briefing for the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness this week, state Rep. Kyle Yamashita presented a list of nearly $28.3 million in mostly smaller projects that can be completed in the next eight months, and another schedule of about $330 million that can be finished in 18 months.
Yamashita, who oversees construction appropriations for the state House, said the list includes some projects that “might be actual, ready-to-go within six months; some might be a little longer.”
It is unclear how long it will take to complete some of the larger projects, which include a Hawaii State Veterans Home for more than $75 million; consolidation of the health care functions at Halawa Correctional Facility for $30 million; and new inmate housing at the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua for $50 million.
Also included in the package are several projects at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, including the second phase of the widening of Runway 8-L, ticket lobby renovations, restroom improvements, asbestos removal in the overseas terminal and other work that altogether will total nearly $287 million.
The list also includes $350 million for dredging and construction of a new pier for a new container terminal at Honolulu Harbor, a project that has been planned for years.
Nathaniel Kinney, executive director of the Hawaii Construction Alliance, said some projects can be prioritized, such as hospital work and airport projects that can get underway while the flow of passengers is reduced.
House Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke said in an interview that Gov. David Ige has designated construction as an essential activity that can continue during the stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, so “there’s no reason why some of these construction projects can’t proceed. But I do think some of those shovel-ready projects are not shovel-ready.”
The Ige administration requested appropriations for some of the projects this year, which means the projects are still in the early stages, Luke said. With the permitting, environmental reviews and procurement processes that need to be completed, “before some of these projects can actually take place, it’s going to be another three years, at least,” she said.
Still, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said it makes sense to push ahead with projects that aren’t ready to break ground immediately because that will create a pipeline of construction work, “and you can have a steady flow of construction.”
Robert Yu, deputy director of the state Department of Budget and Finance, told the committee that the state plans to float bonds in mid-April to borrow money to move various construction projects forward.