Drivers’ concerns rise as lawmakers advance bill to hike vehicle fees

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If Hawaii residents have to shell out more to own a vehicle, how exactly would that money be used?

That’s what many drivers are asking as a bill to increase vehicle fees makes its way through the Legislature.

Senate Bill 2938 would increase vehicle registration fees, as well as vehicle weight and fuel fees.

The Senate passed the bill this week, and it’s now up to the House to decide whether to increase fees for vehicle owners in Hawaii.

After we first reported the bill earlier this week, many viewers reached out to ask exactly why an increase was needed and how the money would be used.

If the bill becomes law, it would cost the average driver about $77 more a year. The increase would generate $70 million a year for the state.

In its testimony to lawmakers, the Department of Transportation said, “We simply cannot build ourselves out of congestion… HDOT is focusing its resources toward making the system that we have work better.”

Even though the bill has not been scheduled for a House committee hearing yet, at least one lawmaker is concerned.

“My constituents want to know specifically how it’s going to alleviate the Leeward Coast traffic,” said Rep. Andria Tupola, R, Nanakuli, Maili.

Tupola says she opposes any hike in fees, so we showed her how the DOT says it would improve traffic by re-timing signals, allowing drivers to use more shoulder lanes, and adding traffic control to busy intersections.

“Is that good enough for you?” KHON2 asked.

“I think a lot of people want to see the shoulder lanes used and re-timing of signals. I’ve been working with the city on that. But again, because it’s not specific to the west side, it could be anywhere on the island, actually it could be anywhere in the state,” Tupola said.

KHON2 asked a spokesperson for the DOT how an increase in fees would help the Leeward Coast. He said it would help pay for a new turn lane on Farrington Highway as well as a widening project on the H-1 Freeway townbound, which would help morning commuters from the west side.

I asked the chair of the finance committee how this decision could be made.

“When it comes to raising any type of fees or taxes for residents of Hawaii, what do you look at? How do you balance that out?” KHON2 asked.

“Anytime we deal with any type of fees or tax, what we need to think about is the benefit to the public,” said Rep. Sylvia Luke, R, House Finance Chair.

Luke said some legislators support the bill to increase fees, because roads need to be improved and highway funds are depleted.

The state says 80 percent of highway funds are used to repave, repair and rebuild transportation systems.

Drivers KHON2 talked to say they already pay enough in vehicle fees and don’t believe an increase would help the roads.

“Our registrations is already expensive and there are still a lot of messed up roads here that they haven’t fixed already like they said they would,” said driver Geo Preza.

“If they’re going to keep raising them, then we want to see more improvement and everything,” said driver Eric Ching.

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