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Funding uncertain for state road projects

July 12, 2014 - 12:05am

A new study released this week points to something Hawaii County drivers know already: the roads are in bad need of repair. But there is an additional threat to the state’s transportation system on the horizon — the possibility of a 28 percent cut in federal reimbursements for road projects.

The report, “Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland,” was released Thursday by TRIP, a Washington D.C.-based, nonprofit transportation research group. In 2013, 19 percent of the state’s bridges were rated structurally deficient, and in 2012, 32 percent of the state’s major roads were in poor condition, the fourth highest rate in the U.S., according to the report.

Traffic fatalities on Hawaii’s rural roads for 2012 was 2.48 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, the 12th highest in the country.

The information was released the same week that U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned that the federal Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August. That would mean $195 million fewer federal dollars for Hawaii’s highway and transit improvements unless Congress acts to fill the gap, according to TRIP. The report hammered home a point made repeatedly by the organization — that the nation’s transportation system is key to commerce and quality of life. TRIP did not have county-specific data for Hawaii.

Hawaii’s federal legislators have called for a solution as lawmakers in Washington are seeking to hash out a short-term $11 billion solution to the funding crisis that could affect transportation projects and jobs across the nation. Two different House and Senate versions of the rescue would provide funds until May but lack long-term solutions. The trust fund is financed by an 18.4 cent gasoline tax that has not been raised since 1993.

Richard Rapoza, spokesman for Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, said the congresswoman has signed onto a bill that would generate long-term revenue by closing loopholes in the corporate tax system.

“Funding of the federal Highway Trust Fund is a serious concern for Hawaii, particularly as ongoing construction projects help our state rebuild its economy,” Rapoza said in an email. “Congresswoman Hanabusa is also committed to working with her colleagues to find a regular sources of revenues … instead of jumping from crisis to crisis.”

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz in a statement to West Hawaii Today said Congress has a responsibility to come together and find a plan.

“Projects across Hawaii could potentially be impacted if we don’t find workable solutions,” Schatz said.

State transportation officials noted that the structural deficiencies in bridges identified in the TRIP report doesn’t mean the bridges are unsafe. Instead, it refers to needed maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement. In fiscal year 2012, $32.7 million in federal highway funds was apportioned for bridge rehabilitation and replacement in Hawaii. The state’s two-year bridge inspections are up to date, and all 46 of the state’s critical bridges on the Big Island have been retrofitted, said Derek Inoshita, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation, in an email.

“None currently pose any immediate hazard to motorists,” Inoshita said.

HDOT is working with the governor and the state Director of Finance to make sure a contingency plan is in place to cover current projects in case federal money doesn’t come through, said Inoshita.

“Our hope and expectation is that Congress and the president will resolve this issue soon,” he said.

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