Star-Advertiser reporter Marcel Honore deserves credit for his excellent package of stories on the sad state of island roads, which was also well illustrated and presented to readers.
The stories went beyond a catalog of issues and feel like they got a lot closer to the underlying issues
There are familiar patterns here, and you can almost feel the common factors emerging.
And I especially liked the way Honore undercut the way road repair issues are usually spun.
Here are the takeaways that I found very useful.
1. Hearing elected officials bragging about how many potholes they’ve filled is not good news.
Filling thousands of potholes is “not anything to be proud of,” said Larry Galehouse, director of the Michigan State University-based National Center for Pavement Preservation.
The repairs are temporary, stopgap measures to keep failed roads afloat, and in large numbers they indicate that an agency isn’t keeping up with maintenance, Galehouse and other experts say.
the city’s 37-member pothole-repair team is scrambling to complete tens of thousands of annual repairs across Oahu.
To keep up, the team uses the fastest but least-durable methods to patch potholes on aging streets still waiting to be repaved. That often means it has to return to potholes it fixed because the problem has resurfaced.
“We’re not repairing them in a fashion that you would normally repair defects. We don’t want to fall too far behind,” Department of Facility Maintenance Director Ross Sasamura said.
2. Chronic budget shortfalls have hampered both state and city road repair efforts.
(DOT spokesman) Sakahara said in an email that DOT’s Highways Division “does its best balancing its limited budget and time to ensure that it can meet its highway related duties.” Its needs have “historically exceeded its resources, which is a trend that is expected to continue,” he wrote. DOT officials did not respond to requests for further information.
3. The State Department of Transportation continues to lack transparency and accountability, despite Gov. Ige’s rhetorical support for increased transparency.
The state DOT did not respond to Honolulu Star-Advertiser requests to interview Edwin Sniffen, who heads the highways division, or to emailed questions over the past several weeks.
Refusing to respond for “the past several weeks”?
Hey, the legislature is in session, maybe legislative committees can get more answers? In the past, the problem has been that much of the funding for highways and airports is dedicated funding, and doesn’t rely on routine legislative largess. So DOT has learned that it can essentially ignore pressure from legislators.
4. Poor management is a big part of the problem with road maintenance. A proper maintenance program needs careful planning.
Simply put, local maintenance officials need to do a better job (or in some cases, any job) extending the life of roads by treating them regularly with rubberlike sealants — materials that other places have used for more than 40 years, the experts say.
Moreover, maintenance crews need a detailed program to manage all the work, as well as the leadership and budget to ensure it’s done right, industry experts add.
Remember the UH maintenance backlog? Until relatively recently, maintenance requests were tracked manually using index cards. That’s a management issue.
Anyway, thanks to the S-A for a job well done on this. I definitely recommend wading through the stories.