Matthew Leonard: Those Extra Federal Dollars Are Going Under Your Wheels - Honolulu Civil Beat

To ensure our independent newsroom has the resources to continue our impactful reporting, we need to raise $250,000 by December 31.

Thanks to 596 donors, we've raised $83,000 so far!


To ensure our independent newsroom has the resources to continue our impactful reporting, we need to raise $250,000 by December 31.

Thanks to 596 donors, we've raised $83,000 so far!


About the Author

Matthew Leonard

Matthew Leonard is the data editor for Civil Beat and has worked in media and cultural organizations in both hemispheres since 1988. Follow him on Twitter at @mleonardmedia or email

A new Civil Beat database allows you to see where federal money for infrastructure is being spent in Hawaii.

Where is all the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding going in Hawaii?

This question from a Civil Beat reader arrived via email as we zoom past the second anniversary of the signing of the $1.2 trillion IIJA, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

No surprise that far and away the largest share of the $1.4 billion so far announced for Hawaii will end up under our car tires. A billion dollars of that is going to transportation, including $700 million to roads and bridges.

That’ll be welcome news to users of the Ola Lane Overpass to the Likelike Highway off-ramp on Oahu or Olohena Road on Kauai, among the 74 bridges and 612 miles of highway in Hawaii currently in “poor condition,” according to some understatement from the White House.

A total of $1.5 billion will be spent on bridges and roads in the next five years in Hawaii while public transit will not fare as well, anticipated to receive $316 million over the same period. Airports, ports and waterways will also get large chunks.

Adie Tomer of the Brookings Institution, who tracks infrastructure spending as part of his job, said the majority of the funds in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law went to the federal Department of Transportation and will end up on the islands as non-competitive formula funding — predetermined amounts of money to the state set by Congress.

States have a fair amount of latitude with how they spend those funds, Tomer said.

The BIL was different than past infrastructure bills because it put multiple sector authorizations under one roof, he said.

“So broadband, water transport, even a bunch of obviously energy and natural resource programs,” Tomer said. “This is kind of like our first broadband bill of modern times since 1996, and it’s actually hiding inside a bigger bill.”

Ola Lane over H-1 is photographed Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023, in Honolulu. The federal government’s infrastructure bill repairs and upgrades transportation needs including bridges. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
The federal government’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will largely fund repairs and upgrades to the state’s highways and bridges. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Broadband access in the state is expected to receive a $150 million boost to connect unserved and underserved households. The $37 million toward Hawaiian Telcom’s plan for new undersea cables announced in June is a portion of that. Water infrastructure projects here have received $144 million for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years.

At the lower end of the scale are a number of grants to the Department of Land and Natural Resources for local wildfire defense and preparation programs for at-risk communities on the Big Island and Kauai that all cost less than $85,000 and will no doubt feel like money well spent.

A significant portion of the BIL money is intended to go toward building new things and on that point, Tomer cautions officials that the sticker price for a capital project rarely reflects the ongoing repair and maintenance it might require.

“The way the system is set up, it becomes way too easy to not understand your long-term fiscal burden and so it becomes much easier to think about the shiny new toys,” the Brookings expert said.

Tomer wasn’t thinking about the proposed, and somewhat controversial, Ala Wai Canal pedestrian bridge in Honolulu that got $25 million from the bill toward its estimated $63 million total cost, but he could have been.

“If there’s one thing I want to do is try to raise that particular issue because we’re certainly seeing that in terms of infrastructure planning, just a lack of conversation about those longer term financial burdens,” he said.

We don’t yet have a complete picture of all the projects that will be funded by the BIL so we have created a database that can be searched by county, agency name and a range of other filters.

It will be available on our data page and updated every month for the foreseeable future.

Mapping Climate Vulnerability

If you're fatigued by grim news about climate change, Weihsueh Chiu, a professor at Texas A&M University knows how you feel.

He conceived the idea for a new online tool that measures climate vulnerability down to the level of U.S. counties and census tracts and took it to the folks at the Environmental Defense Fund to build it out.

Let's note here that the nonprofit EDF co-funded the project with Texas A&M and has a political action committee that supports candidates on environmental issues.

However, the data sources that underpin the index are public, coming from agencies that include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Census Bureau and the state-run Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The data sources also are all available to download for scrutiny by researchers.

Chiu said his hope in creating the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index was that users would be able to go beyond doomscrolling. "Our vision is for people to use this to actually identify where they can make a difference and where to advocate for change," he said.

A new climate vulnerability index uses 184 different indicators to map community resilience to climate change. (Screenshot/U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index)

The tool is unique in aligning 184 different indicators on health, environment, infrastructure and social characteristics with historical and projected climate for a selected area, Chiu said.

A community baseline for Lanai, for example, shows low vulnerability for air pollution, but assesses it highly vulnerable for access to care, risk of flooding and the potential for temperature-related deaths.

Those insights can give federal and local agencies, nonprofits and community groups more means to make informed decisions about future infrastructure investments, Chiu said.

He thinks the index can also help provide accountability, including tracking the effectiveness of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law spending over time.

"The Biden administration say they want to devote resources to these underserved communities," Chiu said. "They want to improve climate resilience things like that. Do those improvement show up later in the data? So, longer term that would be an important use of this as well."

Read this next:

The Sunshine Blog: Blangiardi Builds His War Chest

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Matthew Leonard

Matthew Leonard is the data editor for Civil Beat and has worked in media and cultural organizations in both hemispheres since 1988. Follow him on Twitter at @mleonardmedia or email

Latest Comments (0)

It's disappointing that very little is going to public transportation. This money seems to encourage and enable more people to jump into their cars. What about the bike lanes that are needed here on Kauai? Only fools bike on the highway here, yet there is no other alternative in many places.

Scotty_Poppins · 1 month ago

My comment is that why don't the state purchase a slurry bomber or the National guards assume one, for our large wildfires, it would cover the whole states wildfires in an efficient time and effort

Rickylau · 1 month ago

We keep hearing about how our water infrastructure is falling apart. Why was there only 1 water request from the Counties? Honolulu Board of Water Supply is proposing to raise their rates, couldn't they have asked for some federal dollars to replace pipes and address the impacts of Red Hill rather than putting all of the burden on the rate payers?

H_byrdman · 1 month ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.