- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Gov. David Ige is defending his decision to delay several highway projects aimed at increasing capacity and reducing traffic congestion, saying the state needs to focus more on maintaining the roads.

Ige told The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (http://bit.ly/2aMW03S) the large-scale projects he has decided to defer indefinitely are costly and the state Department of Transportation should shift its focus. He said his administration will consider cheaper options that would allow the state to use existing infrastructure more efficiently.

“If we do one of those capacity projects, it pretty much obliterates the funds available for, like, a long time,” Ige said. “I think it is about trying to find balance.”

The decision comes at a time when public opinion polls show traffic congestion has been near the top of Hawaii voters’ concerns. Many projects being deferred were promised to communities years ago.

One of the dozens of deferred projects is the widening of Highway 130 on the Big Island, which transportation officials estimate to cost $160 million.

“We would take all the statewide money and put it in this project,” Ige said. “I think that’s the challenge with these capacity projects.”

Other projects being delayed include the Paia Bypass project on Maui, which is expected to cost $280 million to $300 million, and the eastbound H-1 widening from Waiawa to Halawa.

Ige has denied suggestions that he put off the highway projects to pressure lawmakers into approving increases in the state’s gasoline tax, weight tax and vehicle registration fee. Lawmakers rejected the tax increase proposals after Ige brought them forward this year.

Ige said he will ask the Legislature again next year to approve the tax increases, which he says can provide new funding alternatives because the “existing funding for highways statewide is not sufficient.”

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com

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