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Hawai‘i Infrastructure Receives D+ Grade from Civil Engineers

Hawai‘i Infrastructure Receives D+ Grade from Civil Engineers

Honolulu — The inaugural Report Card for Hawai‘i’s Infrastructure was released by the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Hawai‘i Section, giving 11 categories of infrastructure an overall grade of a “D+.” According to the report, most of the Aloha State’s infrastructure systems are in in poor to fair condition. The state’s roadways are among the most congested in the nation, and there is a $23 billion transportation infrastructure funding gap over the next 20 years. The report includes an evaluation of the following categories: aviation (C-), bridges (C+), coastal areas (C-), dams (D), drinking water (D+), energy (C-), roads (D+), schools (D+), solid waste (C), stormwater (D-) and wastewater (D+).

Stormwater received the lowest grade in the Report Card, sitting at a “D-.” The state has experienced an increase in extreme flooding caused by high tides, storm surges, hurricanes, tsunamis and sea level rise. This harmful flooding also causes pollutants, trash and debris to enter Hawai‘i’s water resources. Based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 assessment, 88 of the 108 marine water bodies did not meet water quality standards. Meanwhile, projections show that by 2100, sea levels will rise by approximately 3.2 feet, meaning over 20,000 people would be displaced, roughly 5,700 structures would be impacted and approximately 40 miles of coastal roads would be at risk of sea inundation.

“Governor Ige and I would like to thank the American Society of Civil Engineers for this valuable, candid assessment of Hawai‘i’s infrastructure,” said Hawai‘i Lt. Governor Josh Green. “Investing in our state’s infrastructure not only ensures that Hawai‘i residents get to work and school safely and efficiently, but it plays an important role in the health and overall quality of life for Hawai‘i residents and visitors. While we are making measurable progress under the Ige administration, this Report Card shows us that we still have more to do to modernize the Aloha State’s infrastructure systems. We remain committed to working with state and local leaders to get this done for the good people of Hawai‘i.”

Lack of funding and aging assets for the state’s drinking water and wastewater systems are concerning. Hawai‘i’s drinking water and wastewater systems are plagued by infiltration of saline groundwater and both exhibit significant funding gaps when it comes to available revenue versus total needs. Water main breaks, flood water damage, loss of property from coastal erosion and beach and park closures from brown water advisories are all results of deteriorating infrastructure. With much of Hawai‘i’s population located along the coastline, the resiliency of the wastewater infrastructure in coping with sea level rise and increasing severity of storm events is extremely critical. Honolulu has identified over $5 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs, Kauai requires $174 million for current deficiencies and future needs and Maui needs $310 million over the next 20 years for source development and transmission improvements. Additionally, urbanization on the island has increased water usage without replacing these sometimes undersized and deteriorating systems.

Hawai‘i’s unique island geography and isolated location presents unique challenges for the state’s energy infrastructure. The state leads the nation in both residential solar power generated per household and is third in solar photovoltaic capacity installed. Hawai‘i currently has the highest electricity cost per kilowatt hour in the nation— approximately 2.5 times the national average. To bring costs down and better protect the environment, Hawai‘i aims to generate 100 percent of electricity with renewable sources by 2045.

Meanwhile, the state’s public school facilities are challenged by population growth and a lack of adequate funding. As of 2017, the average age of the schools overseen by the Hawai‘i Department of Education (HIDOE) was 62 years old, while 53 buildings were over 100 years old. When a facility is beyond its useful life, higher maintenance and repair costs are anticipated.

“The first Report Card for Hawai‘i’s Infrastructure showed us that a large majority of our infrastructure systems were built decades ago and are reaching the end of their service lives,” said Steven Doo, PE, Co-chair of the Hawai‘i Infrastructure Report Card Committee. “We hope our local and state leaders will take the Report Card’s recommendations into consideration, prioritize investment in the state’s infrastructure, and make the changes needed to make the Aloha State ready for the challenges of the next several decades.”

In addition to an assessment of the state’s infrastructure systems, the Report Card also offers recommendations to improve the state’s infrastructure and the overall grade:

  • Fund short and long-term strategies to address the impacts of sea-level rise and other natural disasters and weather events. In the short term, education regarding beach nourishment is needed and funding should be identified and directed toward shoreline protection projects. In the long term, the state should prioritize funding to address the impacts of sea level rise on Hawai‘i’s existing infrastructure.
  • The state legislature should increase the state gas tax and support innovative funding mechanisms.
  • Significant funding for engineering investigations, repairs and maintenance are necessary to help Hawai‘i’s dams meet current safety standards and minimize the risk to downstream communities and the general public. 93 percent of Hawai‘i’s dams are high-hazard potential, meaning failure could result in significant loss of life or property.
  • Rates for both drinking water and wastewater utilities should reflect the true cost of service and Hawai‘ian communities should leverage available loan and grant programs to ensure public safety and the environment is protected. Additionally, impacts of sea level rise and wave inundation on facilities could potentially release wastewater or hazardous waste to local waters and habitats.
  • Take advantage of new laws in place that allow stormwater to be recognized as a utility and further develop county stormwater fees. These fees can help pay for the retrofitting of flood control infrastructure and water quality improvement projects.

The Report Card for Hawai‘i’s Infrastructure was created as a public service to citizens and policymakers to inform them of the infrastructure needs in their state. Civil engineers used their expertise and school report card letter grades to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis of Hawai‘i’s infrastructure network.

A full copy of the Report Card for Hawai‘i’s Infrastructure is available at www.InfrastructureReportCard.org/Hawaii.