It’s Time To Talk About Toll Roads

Larry Price
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Wednesday - April 26, 2006
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It was bound to happen: The toll road may arrive in paradise.

Here’s an idea whose time has come. Ever since I drove on the New Jersey Turnpike (a toll road) in the late 1950s, I have believed Hawaii was destined to follow suit someday. And after driving on the toll roads in Northern California in the ‘90s I began to wonder how long it would take for our globe-trotting politicians to bring the idea back to Hawaii.

Now we appear to be on the brink of a breakthrough in highway development: Charge the motorists and commercial traffic who use the road for its maintenance.

Compliments are due the C&C of Honolulu for even considering a two-lane elevated toll road as one of the transit options to alleviate Oahu’s traffic congestion. The road would be built above Kamehameha Highway running from the H-1 and H-2 interchange to the airport area, where it would connect with the state’s planned Nimitz flyover.

What makes this a good idea is that high-occupancy vehicles could take the toll road into town in the morning, then the lanes would be reversed for afternoon traffic leaving town. It’s not set in concrete, but it’s likely that people in high-occupancy vehicles would not have to pay a toll to use the road.

As in other municipalities, the toll would probably start out low and then be increased as maintenance costs escalate. Hopefully it will be like our bottle bill, where the government makes a windfall because not everyone recycles their bottles for the small reward of 5 cents. Consequently, the state has a profit of $23 million in its coffers and the year isn’t even half over. The same would go for motorists who want to use the elevated freeway, but don’t have high-occupancy vehicles. They would gladly pay the toll just to zoom into town without gridlock and dodging potholes. To get a head start, we should build the toll road with machines that can take dollar bills and plan to give discounts to motorists who buy monthly passes.

One has to admit the building of an elevated toll road sounds like it would be good for the construction industry, provide a lot of jobs and, if landscaped correctly, create a postcard-beautiful corridor for our tourists to enjoy on their way to Waikiki - at least in the beginning.

One of the problems Hawaii, and especially Oahu, has had in the past is a tendency to let great ideas fall in to disrepair because of a lack of planned maintenance. If we build it, we have to maintain it.

This toll road is one of four proposals being considered. Others include a rail system, an enhanced bus system and a no-build option.

Oahu has already outgrown an enhanced bus system, in my humble opinion. Buses take up a lot of room, have too many labor strikes, don’t pay for themselves and wreak havoc on the highways and byways.

If a rail system could be build as part of the elevated toll road, that would put us in the transportation elite. If it was possible to upgrade the Aloha Stadium and have the elevated toll road pass by it, they could really improve the Leeward Coast and make driving in traffic a little more enjoyable.

Of course, transportation projects on Oahu have a long history of discouraging support. If anyone remembers the plight of building the H-1 on the Leeward Coast or the H-3 on the Windward side of Oahu, you know it’s probably not wise to get excited about these great ideas right now.

Another concern is taking care of other C&C of Honolulu public works projects first, like our sewage problems. After all, it’s only reasonable to fix the sewage system before taking on a bigger public project.

Traffic congestion and the escalating cost of construction are also causes for concern.

If we don’t take care of it now, we may not be able to afford it in the future.

It might be a good idea for the hundreds of critics ready to shoot this project down before it even gets started to give the city planners an opportunity to prove they can think outside Honolulu Hale.

It’s time for us to join the big time and start building toll roads right now. If motorists won’t car-pool or use the bus system, then they deserve to be rewarded for their procrastination.

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