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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, October 26, 2002

State to put off more than dozen highway projects

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

State projects put on hold

• H-1 Freeway rehabilitation and resurfacing from Ka'ahumanu Street to Kaimakani Street, $20 million. Deferred to 2005.

• H-1 Freeway, extension of morning zipper lane from Pearl Harbor to Ke'ehi Interchange. $8 million. Construction deferred to 2004.

• H-1 Freeway, Lunalilo on/off ramp improvements. $4 million. Construction deferred to 2004.

• Fort Weaver Road widening near Laulaunui Street. $4.4 million. Construction deferred to 2003.

• Kamehameha Highway, Waiahole Bridge replacement. $12 million. Construction deferred to 2004.

• Farrington Highway Improvements from Nanakuli to Makaha, second phase. $9 million. Deferred indefinitely.

• Freeway Service Patrol on interstate highways.$4 million. Second phase deferred to 2005. (First phase of project is still scheduled to begin in 2003.)

The state Transportation Department is delaying more than a dozen highway projects worth more than $25 million because of a lack of manpower or other problems, officials said yesterday.

"We've got too many projects and not enough resources," Ron Tsuzuki, head of the department's Highways Division planning branch, told members of the O'ahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees transportation projects involving federal money.

Transportation Director Brian Minaai said the highway division's efforts also were hindered by a 20 percent vacancy rate among highway engineers.

"We're having a very difficult time recruiting top engineers, or any engineers at all, at the pay scales we can offer," Minaai said. The shortage forces the department to turn much of the design and planning work for highways over to private consultants, Tsuzuki added.

The delays mean that construction work on several highly publicized transportation projects will be pushed back for several years, in some cases to 2004 and later.

The delays angered some members of the OMPO Policy Committee, which is composed of elected state and city officials who often have to deal with complaints from frustrated motorists.

"We gave you the money and we gave you the tools to do the job, and you didn't do it," said Rep. Cal Kawamoto, D-19th (Waipahu-Pearl City). "If you needed more money you should have asked the Legislature for it."

Kawamoto was angered by the state's refusal to put a traffic signal on Fort Weaver Road near Honowai Street. One of the projects being delayed is the widening of Fort Weaver Road near Laulaunui Street.

"It's a safety issue. People are speeding all through the area and we need that light. If you don't put in that light, I'm totally opposed to widening Fort Weaver Road," he said.

Minaai said many of the delays are caused by the normal give-and-take in the highway planning process.

For instance, he said, some safety improvements to Farrington Highway from Nanakuli to Makaha planned for 2004 are being pushed back to deal with recent input the department received from the Wai'anae community.

"We were planning to put a concrete medium barrier in the center of the highway, but the community is asking for a more permanent solution," Minaai said. "They want something that ultimately will look more like the landscaped medium on the Kalaniana'ole corridor. That's going to take us more time to do."

Committee members also criticized a delay in the plans to build a second access to Leeward Community College from Waipi'o Point. The state said planning on the project won't begin until next year and construction is several more years away.

"We haven't even started the planning process yet," said Tsuzuki said.

"What's the problem?" asked Rep. Willie Espero, D-41st ('Ewa Beach). "We've been talking about some of these projects for 15 years."

When committee members insisted on keeping $3 million available for design work in next year's budget for the Leeward project, Tsuzuki shook his head and said: "You can do what you want, but I'm telling you it's not feasible."

Ultimately, the committee approved an amendment to the O'ahu Transportation Improvement Program for 2002 to 2004 that allowed DOT to defer or delete the projects, but committee members remained frustrated with the delays.

Correction: The state is deferring work on more than $25 million worth of highway projects. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated a higher figure.