Engineering Solutions for Our City
Traffic, Trash and Taxes:
Key Issues in Panos’ Platform
Traffic, Trash and Taxes in Honolulu are bad, worse and worst
There are three main challenges associated with traffic: Traffic
congestion, mass transit and paving.
Part of the reason for the severe congestion on Oahu is that the
“traffic engineering toolbox” is rarely used. Traffic signals are
not synchronized and updated, incidents and accidents are not
managed, and freeway bottleneck relief projects are not done. Some
of Oahu’s intersections are so congested that a traffic light
cannot improve traffic flow. Two-lane underpasses will reduce
congestion almost by half and substantially reduce traffic and
pedestrian conflicts. In addition, compressed work weeks (4 day, 10
hours per day) and moving UH start times outside the typical
commuter peaks will help substantially and immediately.
For the longer term, HOT lanes provide the best efficiency in
congestion relief. Even if a small portion of traffic diverts to
the HOT lanes and pays a toll (which is congestion insurance
because toll payers are guaranteed a trip at 60 miles per hour),
traffic is lessened on existing free roads which benefits to those
who do not pay. HOT lanes are a double win-win: Win for buses and
carpools, and win for both toll-payers and users of the free roads.
Longer term, Kapolei, the second city, has to develop as its name
implies and become a city of its own. This will diminish the need
to commute to Honolulu. A large campus, a large shopping mall and
affordable relocation programs for small businesses can accomplish
this in the foreseeable future.
Oahu leads the nation in carpooling and has a high public bus
A proper policy capitalizes on these strengths and makes them
stronger. A HOT lane facility is a transit expressway in which all
buses, vanpools and large carpools go for free. That’s the HO in
HOT (high occupancy). HOT could also be short for high occupancy
transitway. About 100 buses and 500 vanpools have roughly twice the
passenger capacity of the proposed rail but they use the capacity
of only one half of a freeway lane. There is a lot of room on a two
or three lane reversible HOT expressway for low occupancy vehicles.
These are welcome, but need to pay a toll to control the number of
entries. This is needed so that the transitway always flows
congestion free. As a result, an express bus can go from Waikele to
downtown in 15 minutes.
With HOT lanes, the same express bus can do two trips in the same
time that an express bus does the trip today. This doubles bus
frequency at little extra cost. Buses will have a priority viaduct
that takes them directly to downtown, and then there will be a Bus
Rapid Transit system running along King and Beretania streets. As a
result, Kapolei to the UH can be done in 45 minutes by bus, instead
of 75 minutes by rail and do so at one quarter the cost of
Paving on Oahu is terrible. In fact it’s the second worst in the
nation. City roadway paving is much worse than that of state
highways because of years of neglect. We must stop applying the
half-inch pavement overlay treatments that cost tens of millions
but last only through the next election, if we’re lucky. Our paved
streets are in need of expensive but durable rehabilitation. The
city must allocate the proper resources and create a plan for
routine and periodic pavement maintenance.
Oahu is in a solid waste disposal crisis and under a billion dollar
lawsuit from the Environmental Protection Agency for its lack of
secondary sewage treatment.
Solid waste disposal
Nearly a million residents and thousands of tourists produce a lot
of trash. H-Power reduces a lot but we still wind up with 20%
flyash. We need modern waste processing plants with 98% efficiency.
There are facilities in Germany and Japan located inside the
cities. They are clean and they produce such useful products such
as reusable glass, metal, plastic and even stone pebbles. Some are
able to provide electricity. None are cheap to install or operate,
but they are essential infrastructure for sustainable cities. Once
a couple of modern trash management factories are installed,
Waimanalo Gulch must close.
Meanwhile, a much larger effort in curbside recycling is required
to reduce what goes into Waimanalo Gulch. Those residents directly
affected by Waimanalo Gulch should be provided with relocation
opportunities and assistance. This is a complex, expensive and
divisive issue that needs the best scientific information and
comprehensive local input.
The second crisis is sewer lines and sewage treatment. The city has
made inadequate progress in replacing old and bursting sewer lines.
One result was the “fountain of disgust,” caused by the release of
millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Ala Wai Canal.
This created a major threat to public health and endangered the
reputation of tourism in Waikiki. Secondary treatment is important
for Oahu. There have been several threats to water quality and
public health at Waikiki and Kailua beaches, in Kaneohe Bay and
Honolulu is among the 1% of cities in the U.S. that do not have
secondary sewage treatment. The current administration is gambling
on a judge’s ruling in the suit that the Environmental Protection
Agency has brought against the city. It is time to negotiate a
sustainable long-term plan with the EPA and bring Oahu into
compliance. On July 1, 2008, Oahu federal judge Ezra said “It is
much more important to fix the sewers than to put in a light rail
Oahu taxpayers are among the heaviest taxed individuals in the
United States. In four short years, tax collections under Honolulu
Mayor Mufi Hannemann went from $1.365 billion during the last
fiscal year under then Mayor Jeremy Harris to $1.990 billion under
Hannemann, a whopping 46% increase. Did you notice any part of city
services improve by 46%? Sewer fees were increased 18% effective
July 1, 2008.
The City & County of Honolulu is responsible for real property
tax on commercial and residential properties. Oahu property owners
received their latest real property tax bill in the last few days
indicating how much they must pay by August 20. Most people on Oahu
have seen significant increases in the actual amount of tax they
are called upon to pay.
Commercial property owners who pay a rate higher than residential
property owners have also seen a big jump in their property tax,
which is passed on to the businesses and non-profits renting from
them in the form maintenance fees. Those increased costs are then
passed onto the customer, or absorbed by the business or non-profit
if they cannot be passed on. With commercial property taxes and
other city fees at an all time high, many businesses and
non-profits are closing because they cannot afford to stay in
business any longer. That contributes to the state’s increasing
General Excise Surcharge for Rail
The City added an additional 12.5 percent surcharge to the state’s
General Excise Gross Income Tax in January 2007 – the largest
single tax increase in Hawaii’s history – to fund Oahu’s proposed
$6 billion rail system from Kapolei through Honolulu. Actually, the
mayor pleaded with the legislature for the authority to double the
surcharge. Since the enactment of the additional GE tax, Oahu
taxpayers, individuals, families and small businesses have paid out
an additional $250 million to the city, which is being used to fund
the rail system. Taxpayers will also need to fund the operation,
maintenance and repairs on the rail system, which will be millions
more a year.
Some experts estimate that if the rail transit is built, property
taxes could rise an additional 40 percent to pay for the project.
Sewer fee increases Oahu taxpayers will be responsible for repairs,
improvements and replacement of the county’s aging sewer system,
which will amount to more than $1 billion. Motor vehicle
registration fees have increased dramatically along with sewer
fees, which will rise 18 percent this year.
Many of the city’s long-term projects and infrastructure are
secured by selling general obligation bonds, also ultimately the
responsibility of county taxpayers. Just the repayment of principle
and interest on existing bonds accounts for more than 15 percent of
the city’s budget. Additional demands for projects like the rail
transit will guarantee that the burden for Oahu taxpayers will
increase. Even with the hope that the federal government will
somehow provide more money for the city (more money for any other
transportation project in history besides New York) the point is
that “federal money” still comes from the taxpayers.
Setting Debt Limits
The Tax Foundation of Hawaii makes a good recommendation about
adjusting the debt limit for the city budget. “For fiscal year
2008, total real property valuations for determining the counties'
debt limits were roughly $250 billion. The debt limit calculated
under the current constitutional formula would allow the counties
to issue as much as $37.5 billion of debt. While it is doubtful
that the counties would issue debt of that magnitude, the problem
is that the limit is so generous, and the potential for borrowing
that amount exists. In fact, in some cases, the liberal use of debt
has stretched the resources of the county to the point that a
larger portion of that county's operating budget is going toward
the repayment of debt. Too large a percentage of that budget going
to debt service will mean that other expenditures in the budget
will suffer or real property taxes will be increased to cover the
shortfall. There is no doubt that the county debt limit needs a
review, which could be done should a constitutional convention be
approved by the voters this year.”
Fiscal Discipline Needed
The city budget is already bursting with generous increases
provided for city workers and law enforcement as well as funding
the costs for emergency sewer replacement, road repairs, trash
disposal and debt service. It is time for the citizen taxpayer who
foots the bill for all of these taxes, fees and debt, to make a
significant change in the leadership of the city and to recognize
that city budgets and expenditures, projects must be tied to the
ability of Oahu taxpayers to pay. Taxes and fees are set by the
city and can be changed by a more fiscally responsible and taxpayer
I pledge to be that mayor who practices strict fiscal discipline
and respects the taxpayers' every dollar.