Political Tittle-tattle: News and Entertainment from Hawaii’s Political Arena

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”Why Oh Why, Potholes in Paradise”


The recent rains that slammed down on the islands throughout the holiday season managed to severely damage the roadways on Oahu, causing the number of potholes to jump an estimated tenfold and calls to the government pothole hotline to rise nearly 600 percent.

That is quite a feat on Oahu, as the island’s poorly maintained roadways played a major factor in the state being rated with the worst roads in the nation in Feb. 2003 by the Surface Transportation Policy Project.

Rod Haraga, director of the state Department of Transportation, explained on yesterday’s Rick Hamada Morning Show on KHVH 830 AM Radio that potholes are caused by water seeping into cracks in the road, which then expands below the surface. In addition, he says, heavy water also erodes the road’s surfaces, causing new cracks to form, which leads to new potholes.

So who is in charge of keeping Oahu’s roadways safe and smooth? Data provided by the state Department of Transportation shows that from a total of 1,591 route miles of roads on Oahu, maintenance for 85 percent is the responsibility of the City and County.

One of Hawaii’s leading cartoonists, John Pritchett, documented a reason why Oahu may have such poorly maintained roads. In his May 15, 2003 editorial published in Hawaii Reporter, “City’s Dramatic Drop in Road Resurfacing Corresponds with Mayor’s Campaign Strategy,” Pritchett charts the number of lane miles rehabilitated or resurfaced by the City and County of Honolulu from 1986 through 2002. (A lane mile is equal to one mile of roadway 10 feet wide). The data for this chart was provided to the Honolulu City Council by the Department of Facilities Maintenance in October of 2002.

He says what is striking about the chart is it reveals that as soon as Jeremy Harris was elected mayor of Honolulu in 1994, road maintenance took a nosedive. This trend continued, reaching an all-time low of just 35 lane miles resurfaced annually, right around the time of Jeremy’s 2000 re-election campaign. Compare this to an average of 250 lane miles resurfaced annually during the eight years before Jeremy became mayor.

Pritchett and other critics, including former Mayor Frank Fasi who prided himself on the number of lane miles he repaired and maintained annually, say Harris diverted city funds away from core city functions such as road maintenance and instead, focused on glamorous construction projects that would promote his political ambitions. They maintain that it is a betrayal of the taxpayers’ trust to ignore core city services such as road maintenance and then turn around and spend millions of tax dollars on fancy projects designed to promote the mayor’s political career.

Nothing brings that betrayal home more than the head-banging jolt drivers get when landing front car wheels first in the crater-sized potholes that now pave Oahu’s roadways. Or the high tab they pay at the auto repair shops, including charges for new tires, alignment and shocks.

Poor road conditions reportedly cost Hawaii drivers around $114 million a year for repair and operating costs, according to a 2001 survey by the Society of Civil Engineers in Hawaii, or around $150 per driver. Other unofficial estimates from auto repair dealers including Costco’s tire shop, are higher, with the cost of poor roads on Hawaii’s automobiles ranging from $300 to $400 per driver annually. And the fancier the tire rims, the more damage that can be done.

”Anyone Wanna Buy an Overgrown Cavity Filler That No Go?”

The state Department of Transportation has abandoned its plans to use the $156,000 pothole-patching machine, the “Rosco RA-300,” purchased in 2001 by then Director of Transportation Kazu Hayashida with funding from his side kick, former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano.

The pothole filler was never even used because it failed pothole filling tests, meaning the holes the machine filled did not stay in place for even a year.

But rather than return the machine for a better one, or selling it on Amazon.com or eBay, the Cayetano administration let the machine sit and gather rust and dust.

Now, after the recent torrential downpour left DOT officials desperate for a pothole filling machine that works, the new DOT Director Rod Haraga says state will try to sell the machine on the Mainland, where there are less used rural roads and look for other options.

In the meantime, workers will continue to fill the potholes that now plague the state’s roadways the old fashioned way