Toll road bill offers options to gridlock
THE STATE House has put on the table a tool for the governor to do something about our transportation crisis. House Bill 70 HD3, the "toll road bill," passed Tuesday and now moves to the Senate for consideration. It is the only bill alive that would arm the governor with the ability to have the private sector design and build freeways that the state cannot afford.
The Oahu Regional Transportation Plan (www. oahumpo.org) through the year 2030 identifies highways that are to be funded using approximately $3 billion -- statewide. The federal government gives us roughly $141 million per year to subsidize all of our state's road-building projects. Every motorist and bus rider who uses the H-1 freeway should be alarmed that the current plan for Oahu calls for $0 to be allocated to fund additional freeway lane miles that would connect the Leeward Coast to town.
If the state were to finance such an endeavor, estimates range from about $1 billion to $3 billion for a two-lane elevated reversible freeway. Therefore, to build an elevated freeway with state funds would mean sacrificing just about all of the other transportation projects in the state for decades. This would bankrupt vital bridge and road construction efforts unless massive tax increases were levied.
Sadly, the state cannot afford to build a measly 3-mile, six-lane road in East Kapolei called the North-South Road all at once. Instead, it can afford to construct only four of the six lanes at this time. With this one transportation project, cost estimates are around $150 million. Hence, transportation projects are being piece-mealed to death because there is not enough money to construct them in a timely, cost-efficient manner.
The financing mechanism that our state employs to build and maintain roads needs to change. The toll road bill can deliver that. For those who remember the zipper lane repair ordeal on Martin Luther King Day, well, that rate of traffic flow is estimated to be the everyday norm on the H-1 by the year 2030.
Imagine though, a private company making this offer: "I want to build you a new freeway -- a route that can be used in times of declared emergencies -- for free. To recoup construction costs and for taking all of the financial risk, I need to charge a toll." Unfortunately, there are legislators who are against the offer and would rather embrace the status quo, rolling the dice that no transportation emergency will ever evolve.
Toll roads provide the motoring public with a type of "congestion insurance." In exchange for a nominal fee, one can transform a two-hour commute into 20 minutes. For those who choose to pay the toll, they would have deduced that their time away from traffic is worth more than the toll collected and would save them fuel expended on the trip, as well as save them the wear and tear on their vehicle associated with the misery of bumper-to-bumper travel.
Currently, the state lacks the enabling legislation for it to engage in public-private partnerships that would permit the Department of Transportation to enter into a contract with a private entity for toll road operations. Private engineering companies and financiers from around the world are alleviating motorists' plight elsewhere by building and operating freeway lanes that local governments cannot afford to build. More than 20 states have concluded that freeways can be built faster and cheaper by the private sector. So why not here in Hawaii?
Rep. Rida Cabanilla (D, Waipahu-Ewa) introduced the toll road bill and has augmented it with HB1547, which would help bring hundreds of road-building engineers and financiers from around the world to Honolulu. These experts would be able to converge on our problem and consequently be able to offer our state a first-hand prognosis on our transportation crisis.
Please support HB70 HD3 and consider asking Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Kalani English to schedule a hearing on these bills.
Tom Berg is the legislative chairman of the Ewa Neighborhood Board. He also works as office manager for Rep. Rida Cabanilla.