Editor’s Note: Natalie Iwasa is a candidate for Honolulu City Council.

Once again Hawaii is at the bottom of the barrel. This time it is with respect to the amount of spending on the federal Safe Routes to School program.

The federal government gave Hawaii about $1 million per year from 2005 to 2012 for a total of just over $8 million. Of that amount, only 17 percent has been obligated (including $400,000 for state “administrative” costs). The next lowest state is Oklahoma at 33 percent. About half a dozen states are on track to spend more than their allotted federal amounts.

It should also be noted that the most recent awards given by Hawaii were in February 2012, and in 2013, the state Department of Transportation spent about $131,000 on administrative costs such as staff labor.

Why aren’t more grants being awarded in Hawaii? And why are administrative costs so high with so little to show for it?

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) “create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from schools.”

Communities from Waianae to Liliha and the North Shore to Kalihi have either had presentations on SRTS or have expressed an interest in the program, yet the funds sit in the state’s bank accounts, and as each year passes, more roadblocks are put up to potential grantees. For example, the state now requires that any nonprofit organization partner with a government agency if it wants to work on an infrastructure project.

It’s not for lack of pushing and prodding by advocates or even the state legislature. The program has such strong support, that legislators passed a state version of the program in 2012. Concerns have recently been raised about that program as well, however. In late November, the state held a public hearing about its proposed rules.

Stakeholders expressed concerns that the proposed rules:

• have no cap on administrative fees; and
• require counties to submit regular reports to the state without similar reporting by the DOT.

This would not be as troublesome if the state were making great strides in improving our roadways for pedestrians and cyclists through other programs or their own initiatives — but they aren’t.

Most people agree it would be a good thing if more students biked or walked to school. It’s time for the legislature to step in again and inquire about this program, so we can make much needed improvements around our schools.

About the author: Natalie Iwasa lives in Honolulu. She is a certified public accountant, president of Cycle On Hawaii, League Cycling Instructor and member of the Hawaii Bicycling League. She recently announced her intention to seek the council seat being vacated by Stanley Chang.

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