Funding to fix rough roads must wait


POSTED: Sunday, September 06, 2009

Hawaii's traffic congestion and road conditions are among the worst in the country, according to separate analyses, and improvements are badly needed. This year's Legislature came close to approval of such an effort - and though fixes must occur, harsh budgetary realities will temper the timing as legislators in the upcoming session deal with the problem.

The Lingle administration supports an expensive six-year transportation modernization plan but realizes the difficulty in paying for it, even with federal funds, during the recession. State Transportation Director Brennon Morioka has called for an “;economic trigger whereby increases in taxes and user fees would only occur upon the recovery of Hawaii's economy,”; estimated to come about in two to three years.

When the bill at issue carried tax increases to take effect in October, Morioka balked, saying the vehicle registration, weight and tax increases should not be initiated “;until the economy has demonstrated a level of recovery.”; The bill deservedly died in a joint House-Senate conference.

Meanwhile, 27 percent of Hawaii's major roads are in poor condition, showing signs of deterioration, including rutting, cracks and potholes, according to TRIP, a Washington-based transportation organization. An additional 44 percent are mediocre, showing signs of significant wear that can be repaired by resurfacing.

The organization figures that motorists in Honolulu's metropolitan area endure an average of $688 a year in extra vehicle operating costs. That includes accelerated depreciation, repair costs, increased gas consumption and tire wear associated with poor road conditions.

It does not include the price of gas consumed waiting in traffic. INRIX, a Seattle-based transportation company, continues to rank Honolulu highways among the nation's most congested during rush hours. Only Los Angeles is worse.

In Honolulu and across the country, congestion eased slightly when gasoline prices soared last year but it reached its least cumbersome in this year's second quarter, according to INRIX. With unemployment rising in recent months, the number of people driving to and from work declined.

Congestion increases when joblessness and gas prices drop at the same time. The clogging of highways in the months ahead “;will largely be shaped by the rate and pace of economic recovery and any severe fuel price shocks,”; INRIX says.

That is the point at which vehicle fees and gas taxes should be increased to provide funds for badly-needed highway repairs.