Photo: Emily Metcalf
HONOLULU’S H-1 FREEWAY – Photo: Emily Metcalf

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU –  Hawaii’s ranking among best American highway systems — we’re No. 48 — was a surprise to Cliff Slater, a transportation expert who runs

“How did Hawaii rank so high?” Slater joked.

The Reason Foundation study, released today, also ranks Hawaii as No. 50 (for the poor condition of its urban interstate pavement) and bridges (No. 49).

The “big news,” Slater said: Hawaii’s ranking at No. 49 for administrative costs per mile.

“We are eight times the average state and 40 times the cost of the average of the best five states,” Slater said. “That is disgraceful.”

Slater noted Hawaii’s roads cost twice as much as Utah and Arizona’s to maintain.

Cliff Slater (photo by Mel Ah Ching)

“We cannot justify that in any way,” Slater said.

“The bureaucracy in the Hawaii state Department of Transportation is hopeless. Nothing gets done. It is a welfare department,” Slater added.

But Hawaii faces some unique costs. The state must transport its heavy machinery and asphalt to six islands — Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kauai — in four counties by ship, increasing the expense of road construction and maintenance, said Panos Prevedouros, a professor of engineering at the University of Hawaii.

But Prevedouros, who consults worldwide on both government and private transportation projects, said part of the problem stems from Hawaii’s mismanagement.

For more than eight years, Tesoro Hawaii stopped producing asphalt here because the state and county could not give the company a solid projection on the amount of asphalt needed each year, Prevedouros said.

Panos Prevedouros, PHD

The state now imports its asphalt from California at considerable cost.

There are ways to improve Hawaii’s ranking, Prevedouros said, by improving the methodology and procedures so that pavement lasts longer and is maintained in a consistent and continuous manner.

In other categories, the state scored better. The Reason Foundation’s 20th Annual Highway Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems put Hawaii at No. 28 in urban interstate congestion and No. 20 in fatality rates.

A widening gap is emerging between most states that are making progress and a few states that are finding it difficult to improve, the authors note. North Dakota, Kansas, Wyoming, New Mexico and Montana are in the lead for cost-effectiveness ratings, while Alaska, Rhode Island, Hawaii, California and New Jersey came in at the bottom.

See the full study.

See details about Hawaii here.