Money for road
is well spent


A study has concluded that traffic congestion and poorly maintained roads cost each Hawaii motorist nearly $1,000 a year.

MILLIONS of dollars are being spent on road maintenance in Hawaii, but the total is dwarfed by the amount that congested, pothole-infested roads take away from motorists. A new study estimates that cost at $677 million a year, or $995 per driver, supporting the argument that the cost of road maintenance is money wisely spent.

The study by The Road Information Program, or TRIP, found that 13 percent of Hawaii's roads in 2003 were in poor condition and 53 percent were mediocre. It found nearly a quarter of Hawaii's urban interstates to be congested.

The Lingle administration has proposed spending $72 million next fiscal year and $67.2 million the following year on state highway maintenance, and Mayor Hannemann plans to spend $70 million this year. The organization maintains that every dollar spent on road maintenance brings $5.40 in benefits in better safety, reduced travel delays and reduced vehicle operating costs.

TRIP is sponsored by institutions that have a stake in road maintenance -- insurance companies, equipment companies, highway engineering, construction and finance businesses and labor unions. However, the study's figures are based mainly on government statistics. It estimated the annual cost of unsatisfactory roads at:

» $218 million from traffic accidents and fatalities where roadway design was an important factor;

» $147 million from delays and wasted fuel because of traffic congestion, based on gasoline prices and a formula valuing a wasted hour at $13.45 for individual motorists and $71 for commercial vehicles; most transportation studies estimate wasted hours at one-third to one-half the driver's wage, a compromise between whether the hours wasted were leisure or work;

» $312 million for vehicle repair costs, tire wear and depreciation resulting from badly maintained roads. The study identified stretches of "significant pavement deterioration" of a mile or more on Nimitz (two), Kamehameha (four), Farrington (three) and Kalanianaole highways.

The study makes no mention of plans for a rail transit system between Kapolei and downtown. That would significantly lessen commuting on the H-1 and Moanalua freeways, by far the state's most congested stretches of road. It predicts that vehicle traffic will increase by 30 percent in the next 20 years, but that projection is presumed to be without rail transit.

State legislators should prove the projection wrong by allowing counties to raise the general excise tax from 4 percent to 5 percent, directing the increased revenue collected on Oahu to the rail transit system. The raise is needed to lure the federal assistance necessary to build the system.

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