I do hope that Aaron Stene, in his Sunday letter to West Hawaii Today regarding the need to look for funding sources beyond the Department of Transportation’s limited scope of revenue bonds and increased taxes to pay for the widening of Kuakini Highway, was heard by the “powers that be.”
In 2008, we were casting about for funding for Ane Keohokalole Highway, and as a Hawaii County Council representative for District 8 at the time, I tried to convince the then “powers that be” to apply either for Federal Farm Bill funding or monies from the existing Federal Resource and Recovery Act.
After having no success in convincing anyone that this was a viable alternative to bonding and taxing, I realized that perhaps I, as a council member, was actually one of the “powers that be” and went to Washington to meet with the two agencies I had suggested we seek assistance from.
While well-established economic doctrine insists that monies advanced must be paid back, the view then in Washington, and that of the administrator of the Recovery Act, was that money invested is repaid by the worthiness of the effort.
The actual response to my inquiry as to whether we could expect financial assistance in building the highway was “You understand that this agency is not focused on, in your case, building roads on a remote island in the Pacific. What we are focused on however, is getting dollars into your economy over there and we can only do that if you have a qualified project, such as that highway, that we can pay for.”
It did not surprise me that the response to my request mirrored the Marshall Plan implemented after World War II or other federally sponsored efforts to build highways and other domestic infrastructure contributing toward economic recovery, but it was difficult at best to convince the local “powers that be” to apply for the funding I had identified. Once we crossed that bridge, the funding arrived, not as a loan but as a contribution toward our economic stability.
The economic situation now is similar to what was happening in 2008 and perhaps more so.
What is different today, though, and the reason I have tried to promote large scale infrastructure investment is that stimulus sources for the future will not recognize minor needs or minimal expenditure opportunities.
What we now need to do is envision the total solution to the present highway widening issue and develop an overall plan including the Alii Highway alternate, sewage system, water source, power, etc., to the tune of a billion or so dollars.
This is the kind of approach Washington will acknowledge, embrace, and pay us to build.
The question is, can we imagine it?
Kelly Greenwell is a former Hawaii County Council member and a resident of North Kona.