Rep. Takai says highway spending would benefit rail

Published: Aug. 31, 2015 at 3:48 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 1, 2015 at 3:41 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - U.S. Rep. Mark Takai said on Monday the state needs to spend money faster or risk missing out on new appropriations from Congress.

"If we're going to bring in more federal funds to help with highway projects, we cannot show our colleagues on the mainland that we have all of this surplus money," said Takai.

The state had roughly $950 million worth of unused federal highway aid back in 2010. Hawaii Department of Transportation officials said the project backlog is now down to $630 million, but Takai is still concerned. In a letter to Acting Federal Highways Administrator Gregory Nadaeu, Takai requested that the FHA grant the State of Hawaii the authority to use federal Highway Trust Fund dollars to make the required improvements to Kamehameha Highway in Aiea/Pearl City and Farrington Highway in Waipahu as now required because of the construction of the rail project.

"We want to utilize the federal funds and get it done. We have the money. It is sorely needed and it's an opportunity to help everybody reconstruct these roadways," Takai said.

The move would help the cash-strapped rail project since the city wouldn't have to take care of the work through the HART budget. Takai called the proposal a "win-win solution" for everyone.

"I think until we bring the surplus down to about $350, $400 million which is approximately two years worth, which is about what every other state is doing, we're not going to have the ability to access additional federal funds," said Takai.

Edwin Sniffen, HDOT Deputy Director, Highways Division, issued the following statement about Takai's proposal:

"The state is still running through its prioritization processes, and has not yet reached any agreements to fund any proposed betterments to state highways through HART. Any decision to adjust prioritization invariably requires that other priorities get displaced. Therefore, the state will make these decisions carefully. 

The pipeline of funds have been obligated to specific projects, and are therefore dedicated to those projects. Funds in the pipeline are not available for any other projects. Therefore, if the state does decide to fund work on state highways through HART, funding for the betterment work would come out of future federal funding apportionments, not from the pipeline of obligated funds.

The pipeline was at its highest in 2010 with a value of about $950 mil. By January of this year, that amount was reduced to $750 mil. To date, HDOT, in partnership with the counties and FHWA has successfully reduced the amount by $120 mil to $630 mil. HDOT is confident that the pipeline goals, $450 mil by 2018, set in partnership with FHWA, will be met and that federal funds will not be at risk. 

The State receives approximately $160 mil annually from the Federal Highway Trust Fund. These funds address statewide needs such as safety improvements, system preservation, federally mandated initiatives, capacity and congestion improvements, and highway enhancements. The gap between state highway system needs and available state and federal funding for all programs is in the billions. Therefore, the state is not considering any funding to HART that funds rail. HDOT is only looking at funding state highway improvements."

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