19 mil in Lingle budget for Wailua highway fix

As someone who sits in slow-moving Wailua traffic regularly, state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua’i-Ni’ihau, a Wailua Homesteads resident, is happy to report that Republican Gov. Linda Lingle’s 2006 budget proposal includes $19 million for Kuhio Highway improvements from the Wailua River bridge to the Kapa’a bypass road.

Hooser called the successful lobbying for the funding a “team effort,” with community members, Bob Bartolo and others with the Kapaa Business Association, and many others, including Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste, and officials with the state Department of Transportation Highways Division both on Kaua’i and O’ahu, all involved in getting the funding placed in the executive budget. “It will make a huge difference in traffic flow,” he said of the plan to expand Kuhio Highway to four lanes, with left-turn lanes and other traffic- moving features, over about a one-mile stretch that is the site of perennial traffic jams at different times of morning and afternoon.

Those making left-hand turns off Kuhio Highway onto Kuamo’o Road leading to Wailua Homesteads, and onto Haleilio Road in Wailua Houselots, are among motorists who will realize benefits from the widened highway, he said.

The only question is how an additional lane will be configured over the Wailua River, he said.

“Working with my colleagues, we’re focusing on making that a reality,” Hooser said of the widening work.

Another hot topic when members of the state Legislature convene later this month will be affordable housing, and on that front Hooser said state and county officials are working out the possibility of Lingle giving land to county officials through Baptiste for the purposes of developing affordable housing on the island.

Hooser said he met last week with Baptiste and state Rep. Mina Morita, D-Kapa’a-Hanalei, to discuss planned housing projects, be they state, county or private.

The plans are sufficiently complete that Hooser is confident that “enough projects, efforts are on line so that relief is coming.”

There are at least four specific parcels, including some on the Eastside and some on the Westside, that are being considered for transfer from state to county leaders through a Lingle executive order, contingent on the provision that the lands be used to develop affordable housing, he explained.

All told, the parcel or parcels could be used to build around 500 units.

In addition to planned state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands projects at Wailua, Anahola and Kekaha, and various county and private projects, there could be in the neighborhood of 2,500 to 3,000 housing units built on the island over the next few years, Hooser said. In addition, Hooser and other lawmakers will push during the legislative session to have more money put into the rental housing trust fund, which is used to fund construction of affordable rental-housing units statewide, he said.

Hooser and other lawmakers also plan to use portions of increased state tax revenues that have been generated by the current, robust state economy, to try to eliminate some of the backlog of repair and maintenance projects at state public schools across Hawai’i, he said.

“We need to spend it on our schools, repairing and maintaining the physical plant,” he said of using those tax revenues. Legislation will be introduced to significantly increase the state Department of Education facilities repair and maintenance budget, he said.

Hooser has set up his own blog (online discussion log), in order to communicate in another way with his constituents, he said. The address is http://www. livejournal.com/users/garyhooser/. “It’s a new project for me,” and every day or every few days, he’ll update information to include data on the “flavor of bills,” and other information, he said.

Although the legislative session doesn’t officially open until later this month, Hooser and other Kaua’i lawmakers have already resumed their frequentflyer routines.

Hooser was on O’ahu on Wednesday for budget hearings, flew back to Kaua’i today, and will be headed back to Honolulu for more meetings Friday.

Finally, he’ll work to get funding approved for continued operation and repair of the East Kauai Water Users Cooperative irrigation system, much of which is on state property, he said.

The system is now the lifeblood of farmers and ranchers in East Kaua’i, and was once maintained by operators of Lihue Plantation Co. when that company grew sugar on that side of the island.

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