Mayor reveals new direction for Honolulu in first State of the City address

Mayor reveals new direction for Honolulu in first State of the City address

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In his first State of the City address since being elected mayor, Kirk Caldwell said on Wednesday that he leaned upon his experiences during the first 100 days in office to help outline a plan he believes will help revitalize the city's infrastructure and ensure a successful future for Honolulu.

The nearly-half hour speech, which began at just after 8 a.m. inside the Mission Memorial Auditorium near Honolulu Hale, opened with Mayor Caldwell citing the need to look not just towards the city's issues at present, but those that will develop over the course of his term in office.

"It would be easy to spend our entire time putting out fires and attending to the problems at hand," Mayor Caldwell said. "We must do all of that, of course, but at the end of this term, I want to show you concrete examples of how we made things better, and how we laid a strong foundation for the City's future."

In the address, and for the first 100 days of his tenure, as he puts it, Caldwell selected five priorities that he believes are the most important infrastructural improvements that must be made for the long term health of Honolulu: the restoration of bus services that were cut in 2012; the repaving of 1,500 miles of road lanes throughout the city over the next five years; improvements to the city's sewer system; a renewed focus on city parks; and improvements to the planning and construction processes involving the Honolulu rail transit project.

In outlining his plan to restore cuts made to the city's transportation services, Mayor Caldwell emphasized the way Honolulu residents "rely" heavily on TheBus for transportation, not only to take them to their destinations but to do so in a timely manner. Caldwell says that that his cabinet plans to restore five more bus routes in May, then finish restoring the remainder of the routes sometime in August.

"I've dedicated 3.5 million dollars in my budget to cover this priority, and we are going to better integrate TheBus into the overall City plan for transportation services," Mayor Caldwell said.

The roads that the restored city bus routes will travel on must also be address, Caldwell noted, saying that 43% of the city's roads "are in poor condition." Caldwell says he plans on spending $150 million dollars per year over the next five years to improve and maintain the city's roads.

"Every day in the newspaper and on TV, there are stories about the poor road conditions across Oahu," Mayor Caldwell said. "I welcome the coverage because it shines a bright light on a problem that was neglected too long, and that's why we must take extraordinary effort to get our roads back in good shape, starting now."

On March 20, Caldwell's proposed plan to pay for the repairs, which would have increased the gas tax in Honolulu by five cents per gallon, failed to make it past the first vote in the City Council. Caldwell said he was "disappointed" that the measure, which would have meant an additional $15 million dollars per year for the city's Department of Transportation, did not make it to a hearing.

Citing new developments and growing construction projects, Caldwell stressed the need to continue to improve the city's sewer system. The mayor noted several recent upgrades, including an additional force main pumpline at the Waipahu Wastewater Pumping Station, and thanks the City Council for approving funding to help place a new digester at the treatment plant on Sand Island.

Calling some of Honolulu's city parks safe and unclean and "places where residents don't want to go," Mayor Caldwell pledged $11.8 million dollars to repair and improve public facilities at Oahu parks, with a large portion of the money being spend on restrooms and aging equipment and recreational facilities.

Caldwell also proposed $3 million dollars to make improvements at Ala Moana Beach Park.

"To me, all of the great cities of the world have great parks: Central Park in New York City, Hyde Park in London, Stanley Park in Vancouver, Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, Ueno Park in Tokyo, to name just a few," said Mayor Caldwell. "I want Honolulu to have that distinction, too."

In keeping with his theme of improvement, Mayor Caldwell saved his remarks on Honolulu's rail transit plan for last and cited his desire to "maintain public confidence in this project" as reason his cabinet will continue to evaluate planning and construction.

Caldwell says that he will continue to meet weekly with Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation chief Dan Grabauskas and other city officials to focus on three main ideals associated with the project: Reducing visual impacts, input from the community, and financial transparency.

"Rail is the largest public works project in the history of Honolulu," said Mayor Caldwell. "I remain confident that rail is needed to improve traffic along our urban corridor from Kapolei to Ala Moana."

Caldwell also said that he and other HART officials would continue to evaluate plans to connect the rail line with the University of Hawaii at Manoa and other locations.

While the five major points involving infrastructure were deemed most pressing during the address, Mayor Caldwell concluded his speech by outlying the two issues he believes are his next priorities: Homelessness on Oahu and the continued development of Honolulu into a more age-friendly city. Both were issues that the mayor called "serious and growing."

In closing, the mayor said he and his administration were ready for the challenge.

" In less than 100 days, we have demonstrated that we are not afraid to look big problems in the eye and know what we need to do to get the job done," said Mayor Caldwell.

For continued reaction to the mayor's State of the City address, tune in to Hawaii News Now tonight for additional reports.

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