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Highway revamp faces roadblocks


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POSTED: Thursday, June 18, 2009

The 2nd International Symposium on Freeway and Tollway Operations is being held Sunday through Wednesday in Honolulu, where hundreds of engineers and financiers from around the world will converge to share transportation solutions with us. For an overview of the symposium, check out the Web site: http://2isfo.eng.hawaii.edu.

The first symposium was held in 2006 in Athens, Greece, where planners of traffic congestion solutions large and small presented success story after success story. This symposium will be our opportunity to witness firsthand what the rest of the world has been doing for decades: Actively managing traffic 24/7 and letting the private sector build roads that government cannot afford.

Gov. Linda Lingle has been trying to advance the concept of public-private-partnerships that would bring our economy into the 21st century using highway technology that is currently thriving across the globe. The Highways Modernization Plan, SB1611 that stalled in conference committee this past legislative session, was another approach devised by Lingle to tackle our transportation crisis. No other governor has better sought to prepare us for the day when cars run “;green”; and the need for more roads to accommodate their popularity and efficiency is a must-have in order to preserve our quality of life.

For a glimpse into the highways plan, go to the Web site: http://hawaii.gov/ dot/highways/modernization. In a nutshell: The plan would dedicate funds to specific transportation projects. Another opportunity to learn more on the topic is offered on Fridays this month, at 8 p.m. on channel 54, on a TV program featuring Panos Prevedouros, professor of civil engineering at UH-Manoa, and Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a leader promoting energy independence. They discuss the plight of the state's Highways Modernization Plan going nowhere, for now.

I am grateful to those leaders in Hawaii who will not give up on trying to resolve our transportation crisis. Prevedouros arranged for the symposium to come to Honolulu and Thielen helped champion a new bill that initiates the infrastructure needed for electric cars.

From their work, not only will we get an infusion of tourism dollars in the millions as a result of this symposium, we will also be getting a prognosis from experts in the transportation industry on how to resolve out traffic congestion woes.

The twist, though, is that after the symposium is over, Hawaii's law prohibits the Department of Transportation from entering into a contract with financiers and engineers who could build us a new highway so long as the costs to build it are to be recouped directly from the end user by way of a fee, charge or toll. Over 30 states permit their governors to enter into public-private-partnerships and collect a toll; Hawaii does not.

Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona and state Transportation Director Brennon Morioka will speak at the symposium and I hope that they let the audience know that our Legislature refuses to pass any bills to let their expertise flourish here; that they explain that Hawaii has one of the worst traffic problems in the country, yet it does not have the tool of public-private partnerships or the likes of SB1611 as a creative means to expedite bridge- and road-building.

So long as Hawaii prohibits toll roads, expect traffic to worsen and snails to pass you by.

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Tom Berg is an Ewa Neighborhood Board member and its legislative committee chairman.