Kahului Airport receives Hawaii’s first stimulus-funded construction project


Hawaii’s first construction project using federal stimulus money is now under way at Kahului Airport. The US$23.8 million project to relocate security equipment started May 15 and will last until mid-2010.

While relatively small, the project provides the first indication of how the state will use an estimated US$500 million to US$950 million in added federal funds that will be pumped into Hawaii’s flagging economy during the next several years. Overall, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act promises to create or save 15,000 jobs statewide over a two-year period.

Most of the money will pay for highways and bridges, transit systems, clean-water projects, public housing improvements, and affordable housing. The program also is expected to require unprecedented levels of transparency, oversight, and accountability regarding how that money is spent.

However, the Kahului Airport project has so far lacked transparency. That’s because state officials are still struggling with how to gather and distribute information on how the stimulus money is being spent and the economic benefits being created.

“It’s not where it needs to be right now,” said Mark Anderson, a deputy director at the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism that is on a team tracking stimulus spending. “We should have it all at our fingertips, but we’re still getting it together.”

State officials are still waiting for federal officials to finalize reporting rules, which then must be shared with state agencies and contractors, Anderson said. Then various local information systems must be coordinated with the federal www.recovery.gov web site, which will serve as an information clearinghouse. The goal is to start providing more comprehensive information later this summer.

“Eventually we’re going to have to be able to reach down into these vendors and ask for this information, bring it up through government, and send it to the federal recovery.com web site,” Anderson said. “For all the money we’ve spent, you’ll be able to see who got it, what they’re spending it for, how many jobs have been created, and all of that.”

Job tally unclear

Just how many jobs Hawaii’s first stimulus construction project will create and how much will be spent on salaries is still unclear. State transportation officials referred those questions to project contractor Bodell Construction Co., which did not return messages.

In general, the state estimates that 12.9 jobs will be created for every US$1 million of construction spending. In the case of the Kahului Airport project, that equates to about 310 jobs — an estimated figure that includes construction and construction-related jobs.

Apart from jobs there are social benefits of the Kahului Airport project. “This streamlines (Transportation Security Administration) operations, increases security through newer technologies, and also increases lobby space … which ultimately contributes to a more positive traveling experience,” said state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Tammy Mori, in an email. “It should also improve traffic around the airport as well, because luggage won’t stack up on curb-side anymore, since the baggage screening equipment will be relocated.”

Assessing the economic impact of the Kahului Airport project is made more complicated because many stimulus-funded projects likely would have gone forward even if there were no federal stimulus program in place.

To put money to work quickly, the federal government has directed money toward so called “shovel-ready” projects. In many cases, those are projects that already had state funding and federal funds. In the case of the Kahului Airport, the stimulus act is providing an estimated US$18.5 million that otherwise would have been paid for by the state and Federal Aviation Administration. Another US$43 million in federal funds will go toward explosive detection system integration improvements at Honolulu International Airport.