Honolulu has problems managing money for bicycle lane projects, according to a recent audit that found some federal funding has been lost and more might be jeopardized by the city’s failure to complete all of its bike projects in a timely fashion.
Making Honolulu more bike-friendly has been one of Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s priorities since he took office two years ago. The city recently completed the King Street Cycle track, and started other “Complete Streets” projects that aim to make roads safer for the mix of motor vehicles, pedestrians and bikes.
But the audit reported that some city agencies haven’t been keeping track of the costs to build some bike lanes. Meanwhile, the city has allowed funding for some projects to lapse, which means some of the money could be taken back by the federal government.
A new Honolulu bike lane.
City and County of Honolulu
An average of 33 percent of bike project funding has lapsed since January 2013, according to the audit. Before that, the city allowed an average of 39 percent of funding to lapse. That totals up to about $3.6 million in lapsed bike funds since 2006.
Funding lapses when it isn’t used within the time frame specified in a grant or other conditions for funding, said City Auditor Edwin Young. And when federal funding lapses, the federal government can take money back, although that’s happened to Honolulu only rarely.
Money Actually Lost
Mike Formby, director of the city Department of Transportation Services, told Civil Beat that $59,382 in federal funds were lost prior to 2013. Since then, no lapsed money has actually been lost; instead, it’s been converted to other projects, city officials said.
During fiscal year 2013-2014, the audit identified $353,880 in bike funds that expired. Prior to that, the city allowed $3.2 million in city and federal funds to lapse from fiscal years 2006 to 2013.
The audit, requested by the City Council in 2010, reviewed 32 bike lane projects since fiscal year 2006. The audit report, posted recently to the city’s website, said that bike lane project and funding data was “inconsistent, inaccurate, unreliable and not readily available.”
Out of 32 bike lane projects reviewed in the audit, less than half — 14 — were completed by the city, according to the report. Young told Civil Beat that because the city hadn’t kept thorough records, it was hard to tell which ones were never started or just partially completed.
“It’s a very good audit, we basically agreed to implement all of (the recommendations).” — Mike Formby, director, Department of Transportation Services
The King Street Cycle Track was completed by the city, along with improvements to the Waipio Point Access Road in Waipahu. But projects like improving Hamakua Drive and Beretania Street were never finished, according to the audit.
Formby said that as of March 20, another four bike projects had been completed. There are also other bike projects that have been completed that weren’t reviewed in the audit, he said.
Young listed 14 recommendations for improving bike project management, including establishing formal written policies and keeping “accurate and reliable” data. Young also recommended that a database of bike projects be created so the city can keep departments more accountable and measure the success of bike lane projects.
“It’s a very good audit, we basically agreed to implement all of (the recommendations),” Formby said.
Some bike projects receive about 80 percent federal funding, with 20 percent coming from the city, the audit states. Some federal grants are designated for specific bike lane projects, while other funds are provided for general transportation uses like repaving roads. In the latter case, the city uses a portion of the funding to build bike lanes, Young said.
Formby said one reason funding might lapse is when projects end up costing less to build than originally estimated.
In comments about the audit that were included in the final report, city Managing Director Roy Amemiya wrote that unused city funds for bike projects are returned to the bikeway fund, where they can be used for future projects.
The Department of Transportation Services and the Hawaii Department of Transportation are working to update grant agreements so lapsed federal funding can be used for other projects, according to the city’s response to the audit.
Not Keeping Track
Still, some city agencies haven’t actually been keeping track of costs to build some bike lanes, according to the audit. It said Department of Design and Construction project managers didn’t track the costs to resurface and repave some bike lanes.
For the King Street bike lane project, Department of Transportation Services project managers couldn’t gauge the cost of the work because it didn’t have access to Department of Facility Maintenance or Department of Design and Construction costs, the audit stated.
Because of the incomplete financial data, the costs for building the King Street bike lanes ultimately were understated by $28,000, Young told Civil Beat.
The audit also stated that the city didn’t have a formal system of terminologies, procedures or written policies for bike lane construction projects. Also, the Department of Transportation Services doesn’t have guidelines to ensure that bike lane projects are started and completed on time.
Formby acknowledged that multiple departments oversee bike lane construction and there is no single cost-reporting procedure. But, the city does plan to implement a comprehensive procedure soon, he said.
In the city’s response to the audit, Amemiya said that as of March 23, the departments of Facility Maintenance, Permitting and Planning and Design and Construction have to report all bike project costs to the Department of Transportation Services on an annual basis.
Amemiya agreed that the city needed to establish written policies; the target date for that is next January.