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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 3, 2007

Toll roads can be a cost-effective solution

By Rep. Rida Cabanilla-Arakawa

Toll roads are a new concept for our state, although they are used by 22 other states as a way to build themselves out of congestion.

According to a poll in the "People's Pulse" Fall 2007 issue, traffic is the No. 1 quality-of-life issue for the entire state, and 74 percent of those polled stated we are on the wrong track.

For people who live on the Leeward side, conditions will grow worse, with no planned new freeways or highways before the year 2030. Meanwhile, more homes are being built every day.

Toll roads mean you will pay to use the road. The toll road concept is embodied in House Bill 70, now awaiting a hearing in the Senate. HB 70 would put language in the Hawai'i Revised Statutes to allow a private builder to make an offer to our state to build us roads.

The House of Representatives passed this bill last session knowing that our government can no longer afford to build highways and freeways without raising taxes. As a legislator, I for one do not want to be the advocate for raising taxes. Working at the Capitol, I realize how difficult it would be to pass such legislation.

With toll roads entering mainstream America, they have has begun to influence local transportation decisions throughout the country.

But our state has its hands tied, unable to deploy the toll-road concept because the language to allow such is lacking in our statutes. My bill, HB 70, was crafted to merely provide enabling legislation.

The toll-road concept is very simple. A private company builds the road now, and we get to use it right away. The mortgage is paid through the collection of tolls.

If we wait for government to build the road, we will be waiting for decades even after the year 2030. We already know that there are no planned new freeways and highways until then.

With the toll concept, once the contractor has been paid off through toll collection, the road can then become a free road. It is no different from the "fly now, pay later" concept.

The best part of this concept, why it is so successful and catching on like wildfire across the country and world, is that only the end user pays. The public roads will still be there for those who do not want to pay. Even they will still benefit from it, because the free road will be less congested. The savings on fuel and the amount of time spent behind the wheel are very attractive to consumers.

As Sen. J. Kalani English said in an article titled, "Superferry: Debate is healthy and necessary" (Island Voices, Nov. 27), debate is necessary and healthy, especially on matters that are controversial and even on matters that he personally doesn't believe in.

In some people's eyes, toll roads will separate the haves and the have-nots because a fee is collected to use them.

I am not offended by a person at the gas station who may want to pay for a higher grade of petroleum for their car than I do, nor am I upset at those who can afford first-class seating on an airplane or pay for upgraded seating on the ferry.

So letting people have a choice to use a road built by the private sector should not be a problem for anyone.

In a democratic society, we should debate and discuss matters of public concern such as traffic. Debates and open discussion will allow us to hear the sentiments of our constituents. It is also a way to educate people of the pros and cons of a certain initiative.

I believe that toll roads are a way to go in a fiscally constrained state such as ours. I believe that my role as a public official is to bring forth matters that have a potential for bringing options to our people, as well as to inform and be informed.

If you want to debate me about toll roads, please feel free to call my office at 586-6080 or ask for a hearing. Throughout December on Olelo Channel 54, I have a television special airing at 7 p.m. Sundays covering this issue in more detail.

State Rep. Rida Cabanilla-Arakawa represents District 42 ('Ewa, Lower Waipahu). She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.