Most of us are very familiar with crosswalks and traffic signals. We pass a few of them every day. We might get stopped by a red light from one of them. But have we ever stopped to think how much one of these things cost?
The crosswalk is to be located at the intersection of Vineyard Boulevard and River Street in Honolulu, at the edge of Chinatown. It’s kind of a busy area for cars and people, with Vineyard Boulevard being six lanes of traffic all going Ewa (West, for you non-locals).
Apparently, our lawmakers agreed some time ago that a crosswalk with traffic signals is needed there. Funds were appropriated for the project back in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2014. At the time, $750,000 was set aside for both design and construction.
Although the 2014 budget act was signed into law on June 26, 2014, the text of Senate Bill 2004 recites that the funds were released in April 2015, ten months later. That date is significant because the State’s fiscal biennium ended at the end of June 2015, at which point the funds appropriated in the 2014 bill were to lapse. The Department of Transportation was able to get a contract signed to design the intersection, but not to construct it. The design work seems to have cost about $230,000.
Because the crosswalk was still needed and wasn’t built yet, lawmakers took up the cause again in the 2016 legislative session and were able to get it included in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2016. This time, the appropriation was for $523,000, which probably was what remained of the originally appropriated $750,000 after the design costs were taken out.
But alas, delays plagued the project once again. Our Department of Transportation posted a notice on October 10, 2017, requesting bids by November 9. The work included “installation of traffic signals, underground ducts, traffic/pedestrian signal poles, foundations, controller hardware, curb ramps, BMP, pavement markers, lane extension, electrical installation and connection, and removal of chain link fences.” (Sounds pretty involved – but would it be different installing any other traffic signal?)
On November 9, 2017, the bids were opened. Two bids were received, the lower of which was for $816,000. That’s in addition to the design work that already had been done, putting the total project cost north of $1 million. Because this new project cost is somewhat larger than the $750,000 originally appropriated for the project, Senate Bill 2004 asks for an additional $352,800 on top of the funds in the 2016 appropriation. The bill says that “construction costs have increased over the intervening years.” (That’s an increase of over 13% per year. I must be in the wrong business.)
The median price of a single-family home, which includes design, construction, electrical work, plumbing, and the dirt on which all of it sits, was $760,000 in 2017 according to Honolulu real estate firm Locations. That amount of money doesn’t seem to be enough to pay for one crosswalk with a traffic signal. And a single-family home can be built much more quickly.
Is this the new normal? Is this a signal for the need to raise taxes again? Please tell me that it’s not!
Tom Yamachika is the President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, a private, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to informing the taxpaying public about the finances of our state and local governments in Hawaii. Tom is also a tax attorney in solo practice and has been since early 2013. Prior to 2013, he was with the accounting firm Accuity LLP, which was formed in 2006 from the Honolulu office of Coopers & Lybrand (which later became PricewaterhouseCoopers). Before that, he served as an Administrative Rules Specialist in the State of Hawaii Department of Taxation from 1994 to 1996, where he drafted rules, interpretive releases, and legislation on several different state taxes. Prior to that, he practiced litigation and tax law with Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright in Honolulu.
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