Public-private ventures favored to build roads
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Suzanne Roig
Traffic congestion is not unique to Hawai'i. And transportation officials in several states are looking toward creative ways to solve the problem.
One solution ready to take off involves forging public-private partnerships to build new roads, said Rodney Haraga, state Department of Transportation director. Haraga spoke yesterday at the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' four-day conference, which brings together DOT workers from 18 states to discuss trends and technologies for battling traffic woes.
"We're all here for the exchange of ideas, experiences and new technology," Haraga said. "The individual states may all face different hurdles because of their geographic location, but we share three common issues: highway and traffic safety, traffic congestion, construction, maintenance and how to deal with these issues with decreasing revenues."
Federal transportation officials recognize that states around the country are facing congestion issues that demand funding in amounts that government coffers cannot finance alone, said Rick Capka, federal highway administration administrator.
"The free movement of goods and people is the backbone of our quality of life," Capka said. "Unlike the weather, congestion is something we can do something about."
Traffic improvements don't come cheap, he said. Among the solutions DOT officials in many states, including Hawai'i, are looking at include: public-private partnerships for on-ramps and off-ramps, and establishing toll roads. Texas, Arizona and California have proved that toll roads work, officials said.
In Nevada, public-private partnerships are being formed in areas where growth is occurring — Reno, Carson and Las Vegas, said Kent Cooper, Nevada Department of Transportation deputy director.
"Developers are willing to bring in money to pay for interchanges or access to their property," Cooper said. "The question for state transportation officials is will it benefit the community as a whole so that 50 years from now it will be useful and fits into the transportation plans."
EYE ON 'EWA AREA
In Hawai'i, the most obvious place to start on O'ahu is in the 'Ewa area where traffic snarls are routine, Haraga said. The first step would involve finding a company willing to finance a toll road. Then the nuts and bolts of where and how would fall in to place, he said.
"It's working elsewhere," Haraga said. "The company builds the roadway, operates and takes the revenues from the toll roads. It's something we'll be looking at to alleviate congestion."
Gov. Linda Lingle told a crowd of association members at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, "In Hawai'i, the slogan of our DOT is 'Keep Hawai'i on the Move,' and that applies to airports, harbors, and roadways."
Lingle noted that as governor she has signed tougher crosswalk laws that strengthen pedestrian rights, laws issuing teenagers graduated drivers' licenses that restrict the hours they can drive, and this year-regulations requiring moped operators to wear helmets.
State transportation officials this week plan to step up traffic safety with the erection of a digital information sign near Waimanalo Elementary School on Kalaniana'ole Highway that will tell drivers to slow down if they're going faster than the posted 25 mph school-zone speed, Haraga said. The apparatus will record speed and time — data that will be analyzed for possible police speed-control programs in the future, he said.
Eventually, information signs will used around the state at schools that front major highways, he said. "We want to try to remind people to drive the speed limit around school zones," Haraga said. "We don't want drivers to challenge the sign, but build an awareness to slow down."
Reach Suzanne Roig at email@example.com.