Advocates lobbying for pedestrian safety
The AARP is looking for ways to get its pedestrian-safety measures funded this year, including a final plea to Gov. Linda Lingle to release $3 million in state funding that she vowed on Tuesday to withhold.
Despite the Legislature overriding Lingle's veto on a bill granting $1.5 million for each of the next two years from the state Highway Fund for pedestrian-safety initiatives, she is exercising her power to restrict funding.
"The community members are having a difficult time understanding why a relatively small amount of money is being held up when it could be applied immediately for pedestrian fixes that would save lives and prevent injuries," said AARP Hawaii Director Barbara Kim Stanton.
While there is nothing now the Legislature can do to fund pedestrian safety initiatives, Democrats called on advocacy groups to lobby the administration to release the funds and on the governor to reconsider her stance.
"We believe the ball is in her court," House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa) said Tuesday. "It's now on her conscience whether she wants to step forward and release those funds to save lives."
But Lingle argued that the state Highway Fund has been depleted over the years and should not be used to subsidize county projects.
Under the bill, $1.2 million of the $3 million allotment would go to the four counties over the next two years. The remainder, $1.8 million, would go to the state Department of Transportation to improve sidewalks and roadways for pedestrians.
The governor has approved release of Highway Fund money for the counties in the past. Last year, Lingle signed a bill into law that appropriated $10 million from the Highway Fund to pay for construction, maintenance and repair for county roads.
"You can't raid the cookie jar too many times," said Scott Ishikawa, state transportation spokesman.
The Highway Fund has $130 million budgeted this year, said state Transportation Deputy Director Brennon Morioka, of the Highways Division. At the end of its six-year plan, there will be $5 million left, below which the bond rating could be lowered and result in higher borrowing costs, Morioka said.
"One million here and one million there adds up," Morioka said. "It ultimately would result in our Highway Fund being drawn down too far. That's not good for the state or the public in the long run."
Democratic leaders said the decision to use the Highway Fund for the pedestrian-safety bill was made after four months of discussion.
"Since it is $1.5 million a year, and the projections for the general fund have fallen substantially, we believe it's best for the money to come from the Highway Fund," said Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.
The city and state already have other plans to improve pedestrian safety.
The city will install 120 countdown crosswalk signals within a year beginning in downtown, though it said it could have doubled that amount if it had received additional funding.
The state budgeted $17 million for the next two years on projects that include pedestrian safety. Next month, the state will add 68 countdown crosswalk timers on Farrington Highway in Waipahu after crews are done paving the roads.
Highway funds can be leveraged for federal funding, with the state paying for 20 percent of the project typically, Ishikawa said. For pedestrian-safety projects on its own, such as only upgrading crosswalks, it is unlikely the state would receive federal funding.
"We can stretch our dollar and still get our pedestrian improvements," Ishikawa said.
But Stanton said the city's and state's plans alone are not taking care of the pedestrian problems outlined in the bill.
"We cannot have it lumped with other road projects. While we haven't had a fatality since May, we're holding our breaths, hoping that nothing's going to happen," Stanton said.
Star-Bulletin reporter B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.