Senate panel OKs transport chief
Highway lights along the H-1 and H-2 corridors that have become dark due to copper-wire theft will not be replaced immediately, the state's top highways official said yesterday.
The issue arose yesterday during the confirmation hearing for Brennon Morioka as state transportation director.
At his hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D, Hilo-Honokaa) asked what steps the agency was taking to combat copper theft and what its plans are regarding the light outages along H-1 west of the Kunia interchange and along H-2 from the Waiawa interchange to Mililani Mauka.
Morioka noted that a bill passed by the Legislature last year to increase penalties for copper theft has helped serve as a deterrent, then added that the lights along the two highways are not scheduled to be replaced.
If the roads were being built today, the lights probably would not have been erected in the first place, he said.
"They were put in more as more of a convenience," Morioka said. "They are considered rural corridors."
He added that as more buildings and communities grow around the region, the department will reconsider fixing the lights, which would cost between $500,000 and $1 million along either stretch of road.
Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach) urged the department to study the issue further, arguing that the volume of traffic to and from the airport as well as out to the University of Hawaii at West Oahu and the Ko Olina Resort area warrant the lighting.
"That's not a rural core; that's an urban core," Espero said.
Despite that and a small number of other concerns raised by lawmakers, the hearing was overwhelmingly in Morioka's favor, with all of the testimony -- about 80 pages -- submitted in support of his confirmation.
Fellow Lingle Cabinet members along with a few dozen representatives from various transportation companies and civic groups praised Morioka for his willingness to work cooperatively and communicate effectively with the communities affected by transportation projects.
Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kalaeloa-Makakilo) likened it to a "canonization," while Chairman Sen. J. Kalani English complimented Morioka on earning the respect of the committee by working cooperatively with members in the past in his role as deputy director of the highways division.
English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai) and others noted they were skeptical of Morioka when he joined the agency, because he previously served as chairman of the state Republican Party.
"We have been very pleasantly surprised," English said. "You've been able to keep a straight line on this."
Morioka acknowledged those concerns but said politics has not played a role in his decision making.
"I think as long as you go in with the thought that you're going to do what's right, I think you're always going to be OK," he said.
Morioka has served as acting director since December, replacing Barry Fukunaga, who was promoted to Gov. Linda Lingle's chief of staff.
His nomination was approved 7-0 by the committee and now goes to the Senate floor for a vote by the full chamber.