Editor’s Note: Donald G. Couch Jr. is running for re-election for the Maui County Council’s South Maui seat.

For counties in Hawaii and others throughout the nation, extension of the transportation bill, called MAP-21, is the top priority for Congress this summer.

A delegation of Hawaii counties learned about what’s happening in Congress and other matters of common interest at the Western Interstate Region’s annual conference in Anchorage, Alaska last month. The conference, a project of the National Association of Counties, brought together hundreds of county officials from the WIR’s 15 participating Western states.

I joined fellow Maui County Councilmembers Michael P. Victorino and G. Riki Hokama in listening to the association of counties on re-authorization of the federal transportation bill, “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century,” which is also known as MAP-21.

Hawaii and Federal Map-21 transportation funding, and possibly losing it

Source: The National Association of Counties

Established in 2012, the bill has provided a total of $105 billion for the development and support of transportation programs for counties nationwide. This measure emphasizes the importance of maintaining federal investments in our transportation infrastructure.

On May 12, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works released a 150-page bill to reauthorize MAP-21. The bill would authorize federal highway programs for six years at current funding levels, plus inflation, and was passed unanimously by the committee on May 15.

The bill next moves to the floor of the Senate and, hopefully, to the U.S. House of Representatives.

What does this mean for the State of Hawaii?

This funding helps improve boat harbors, roads and bridges and airports — all vital to tourism and other important segments of our economy.

Without this bill, the federal Highway Trust Fund – the source of money we have used for many capital improvement projects like development of pedestrian and bike paths – is expected to go over a major fiscal cliff and reach possible insolvency in the next year.

If Congress doesn’t act, MAP-21 will expire on Sept. 30 — and issuance of checks to counties will come to a halt as early as July. For Hawaii, funding available for locally owned bridges and federal aid-supported highways will decrease by 41 percent.

According to the association of counties’ survey results, many counties would respond to the cuts by dramatically slowing or stopping projects, which could result in increased costs and other economic impacts in the future.

South Maui is scheduled to receive $70 million for the state’s portion of matching funds needed to finally begin work on the Kihei-Upcountry highway. This project has been discussed for decades and won’t be possible without MAP-21.

Other Hawaii counties will surely also endure the stalling or elimination of worthy transportation projects, if MAP-21 isn’t reauthorized.

Kauai County will host the next Western Interstate Region conference on May 20-22, 2015.

The gathering will provide opportunities to learn about effectively managing land and natural resources, promoting rural development and prosperity, and expanding broadband access.

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