Mayor to ask for $15 million for road fix

LIHU’E — Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste plans to ask members of the state Legislature to provide $15 million in funding for major improvements to Kuhio Highway through the clogged Wailua-Kapa’a corridor.

The money would be to fund a state Department of Transportation Highways Division plan to turn the old cane-haul bridge over the Wailua River from one to two lanes, and make Kuhio Highway four lanes (up from the current three) from the intersection of the highway with the Kapa’a bypass road near the Coconut Market-place, to the south side of the Wailua River.

Intersection improvements would be made along Kuhio Highway at Haleilio, Papaloa and Kuamo’o roads.

The funding request will be included in the state DOT’s supplemental budget for consideration during the 2006 session of the state Legislature, to open in January.

As part of legislation that could be sent to members of the state Legislature for approval, Kaua’i County leaders have given priority to bills to slow speculation, fund harbor and road improvements, and indemnify leaders of state government when they receive help or service from county employees.

Members of the Kaua’i County Council’s Finance and Intergovernmental Relations Committee last week looked at possible legislation that could be included in Kaua’i County’s 2006 legislative package.

Baptiste will also request $400,000 in state funds to improve and extend Pouli Road in Waipouli.

The request would include funding for land acquisition and planning for improving and extending the road, to provide an additional route from Kuhio Highway to the existing Kapa’a bypass road.

Both the highway and bypass road are state DOT Highways Division property.

The total cost for land acquisition and planning is about $2 million. Matching county and federal highway funds are intended to cover the balance of cost of the work.

Baptiste also asked support for a bill to allow state leaders to indemnify officials of counties when state officials receive help or services from a county employee, use county property, or acts as a vendor to the counties.

Leaders of state agencies so far have refused to indemnify (hold harmless in terms of liability concerns and lawsuits) county leaders in this way, contending they don’t have the legal authority to provide indemnification, according to county documents.

As a result, county leaders have been assuming the entire liability for accidents, for instance, when they occur during state use of county properties, such as Hanapepe Stadium, for instance, even if the cause of the accidents is due to negligence by state employees.

The bill would allow officials with state agencies to accept responsibility for their own acts, provide liability protection to county employees, and reduce the use of county taxpayer funds to cover claims.

This bill is part of the 2006 Kaua’i County legislative package.

County Councilwoman JoAnn A. Yukimura, meanwhile, asked fellow members of the council to consider including in the 2006 Kaua’i County legislative package an anti-speculation, short-term-capital-gains-tax bill, on sales of real property.

The bill was originally introduced by state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua’i-Ni’ihau, and other senators, in last year’s legislative session.

The bill would increase the capital-gains tax on real-property sales, based on a “graduated scale of the length of time a seller held the property,” Yukimura said in documents.

She said the bill requires tax revenues to be placed in a rental-housing trust fund.

Rapidly-rising prices on Kaua’i today have prevented members of many local families from buying homes, she said.

“It is clear that a significant part of the rapid land and housing price increase is due to short-term speculation,” Yukimura wrote.

People who speculate by buying and selling properties, she said, “are not contributing real value to the community.

“They are simply wanting to make a quick buck in a way that harms the community,” she said. “It seems appropriate to tax this activity heavily, and use the proceeds for a worth-while cause: the provision of affordable housing.”

Councilman Jay Furfaro asked that his fellow council members consider the following state capital-improvement projects that were identified as legislative priorities by the Governor’s Kaua’i Advisory Council for the county’s 2006 legislative package:

  • Add Kukui’ula Small Boat Harbor in South Kaua’i to a statewide master plan for small-boat-harbor improvements;
  • Keep funding in place to widen Kaumuali’i Highway to four lanes from Lihu’e to Maluhia Road;
  • Allocate funding for park maintenance and “enhancement” in proportion to land size.

Furfaro said Kaua’i County boasts 50 percent of the Hawai’i state park lands, but receives only “18 percent of the budget” for state-park maintenance and improvements.

Furfaro said he hoped members of the council would support his requests through a resolution to be discussed at the Wednesday, Nov. 23 meeting of members of the council’s Finance/Intergovermental Relations Committee.

In a letter to members of the council, Baptiste indicated the chances of getting members of the state Legislature to fund Kaua’i projects in the 2006 session may be the best they have ever been.

In the past, members of the state Legislature looked at two long lists of Kaua’i projects for which funding was requested, one from county leaders, and one from officials with state agencies.

The change this time is that county officials will join forces with leaders of state agencies to get key Kaua’i projects funded, Baptiste said.

He said the funding requests for improvements for Pouli Road in Waipouli, and for Kuhio Highway through Kapa’a, both state roads, represent the shift in strategy that significantly increases the chances of the state funds coming to Kaua’i.

“Specifically, in the CIP (capital improvement project) category, we would propose limiting our requests to work which has a direct link to on-going or proposed state projects,” Baptiste wrote.

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