Three road paving projects on deck for federal funds

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Hawaii County is preparing three major road resurfacing projects to meet the “shovel-ready” requirement of the American Jobs Plan, including Hina Lani Street in North Kona.

Hawaii County is preparing three major road resurfacing projects to meet the “shovel-ready” requirement of the American Jobs Plan.

The next round of federal stimulus planned by President Joe Biden includes $115 billion nationwide to modernize 20,000 miles of highways, roads and main-streets that are in most critical need of repair, according to the White House. Projects must be ready to go to qualify for the federal dollars.

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Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst said three projects will be ready to apply: Hina Lani Street, Waikoloa Road and Waianuenue Avenue.

Of the three, Waianuenue Avenue is the closest to going forward, having a federal obligation and acceptance from the state, Rodenhurst told the County Council last week. The Hina Lani Street and Waikoloa Road projects are getting there.

“Those two are shovel-ready, but they come at quite a price and we definitely need federal funds for those,” he said.

DPW was unable to provide the price and scope of those projects by press time Tuesday, despite follow-up calls to the department.

That can’t come quick enough for North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba.

“I have gotten emails consistently about Hina Lani, so I’m glad you mentioned it,” Inaba said.

Council members had a lot of questions about how road repairs around the island are prioritized — not just for federal funds but from other sources — and, as they’ve been requesting for years, they asked for a prioritized list so they’d know where specific roads are on the list.

“The report is to help us prioritize which roads should be attended to first, right?” asked Kohala Councilman Tim Richards. “There’s never enough funding to address all the roads but going forward, the theory was we’d hit the ones that needed it most and then start chipping away at that.”

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy agreed.

“The bottom line is this body would like to see a needs assessment of our roads, of our bridges, of our assets,” Lee Loy said. “Whatever DPW is in charge of, we need to see a needs assessment. How is that business decision being made? Because a road might be in bad shape but if it’s not meeting any kind of carrying capacity, why would we focus on there?”

Richards sought assurances the county would be ready to use any money coming from the American Jobs Plan.

“Are we ready to grab some funding that we are pretty sure that is coming forth, are we ready to use it?” he asked.

Inaba wanted the report so he could keep the community informed.

“When we get a prioritized list, then we can advocate for and explain to our constituents what’s going on,” Inaba said. “Because it’s funny but it’s not funny where they are saying the county is letting Hina Lani go back to gravel and with the not many roads we have in Kona, those roads are heavily used and there are a thousand ways to get where you’re going in Hilo, but just a few in Kona.”

Rodenhurst said he’d have a report ready by June.

“We don’t have enough money to address every road in the county in a year and I will not tell you we will because that would be a blatant lie, but we are doing what we can within our budget to address what’s needed,” Rodenhurst said.

Money for road maintenance comes from the highway fund, collected from fuel taxes, and is allocated to each district based on its percentage of local roads. Like other use taxes imposed by the county, the fund took a hit from the pandemic.

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The County Council in 2017 raised the county fuel tax from 8.8 cents per gallon to 15 cents, with an additional 4-cent increase in 2018 and another 4-cent hike in 2019, bringing the total to 23 cents per gallon. The local tax is on top of 16 cents per gallon state tax and 18 cents a gallon federal tax.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.