ROAD LESS MAINTAINED
Ahh, rural roads. Hawaii’s narrow, not so well paved byways through Upcountry, East Maui and other decidedly non-metropolitan areas of the island. There are hundreds of miles of them on Maui, many of which fall under county jurisdiction. But according to the the good folks at The Road Information Program (TRIP), a non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C., which sent me a copy of their latest report, titled Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland, these roads (and bridges) suck.
“According to the TRIP report, in 2008, 29 percent of the state’s major rural roads were rated in poor condition, the fifth highest share in the nation,” said Frank Moretti, TRIP’s director of research and policy in a Sept. 1 press release. “An additional 68 percent of Hawaii’s major rural roads were rated in mediocre or fair condition. In 2010, 16 percent of Hawaii’s rural bridges were rated as structurally deficient, the tenth highest percentage in the nation. And additional 35 percent of the state’s rural bridges were functionally obsolete.”
It gets worse: “In 2009, Hawaii’s non-Interstate rural roads had a traffic fatality rate of 1.77 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, compared to a fatality rate on all other roads of 0.89 deaths per 100 million vehicle roads of travel,” states the press release. “Inadequate roadway safety design, longer emergency vehicle response times and the higher speeds traveled on rural roads are factors in the higher traffic fatality rate.”
And that’s pretty bad. Most of the rural roads throughout Hawaii fall under county jurisdiction (there are 169 miles of state roads on Maui, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Daniel Meisenzahl, but 450 miles of county roads). A spokesperson for the County of Maui didn’t get back to me by press time.
As far as the bridges are concerned, Meisenzahl said a report last year identified 126 bridges across the state were deemed “structurally deficient.” “Now that doesn’t mean the bridge is about to collapse,” Meisenzahl said. “What it does mean is that if the bridge was built today, it would be completely different because the standards today are different.”
Considering that there are 750 state bridges total, that means roughly five percent of the bridges lack the sidewalks, lane widths and railings required by modern bridges. “The state recognizes that we have these bridges, and we’re in the process of replacing them,” said Meisenzahl. “We’re very aware of the problem. But it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to replace all of these bridges.”
* * *
HAWAII’S NUMBER ONE!
So my girlfriend and I were walking through the Maui Ocean Center the other day. That place is great! I mean, it’s colorful and informative and cool (talking temperature here, as well as the act of being socially acceptable) and is just a fantastic way for people to spend a few hours. Well, mostly fantastic. See, while we were walking around, looking at the many vibrant and wonderful reef fish and generally minding our own business when the octopus—you know the one—in that one tank glares at me. Just up and glared at me! For no reason! Taken aback at first, I kinda stood there, dumbstruck. “What I ever do to you?” I asked him (I’m assuming it’s a him). And he just glared back at me! Then he kinda moved around the tank a little (it is rather cramped in there, I’ll give him that), and I thought that everything was cool. But it was not—as I’m walking away, the octopus reaches down and tries to steal my car keys! Yeah! So I kinda jumped back—as any red-blooded American would when presented with an octopus trying to steal his car keys—and said something to the effect of (the exact words escape me), “Dude? What gives?” And he was, like, just glaring at me again. But then he kind of relaxed his tentacles and settled back into the water, and I thought that maybe he’d just eaten a bad piece of fish or something and everything was cool now, when he suddenly whips out this brochure and starts trying to sell me term life insurance. Yeah! Term!
Believe it or not, I was not on drugs when I wrote that previous paragraph, but according to a Sept. 2 Associated Press story, people like me are fast becoming the minority in Hawaii. In fact, our state is tops in the nation in workplace methamphetimine use.
“Hawaii leads the nation in methamphetamine use among its workforce, according to a new study by a major drug testing company,” reported the AP. “In millions of test samples analyzed in 2010, Hawaii had a dramatic lead—410 percent greater than the national average—in tests coming up positive for the highly addictive drug stimulant, according to a Quest Diagnostics study obtained by The Associated Press.”
Hawaii is Number One! And it wasn’t even a close contest either. Arkansas came in second (no surprise there), a mere 280 percent over the national average, and third went to Oklahoma (again, completely believable), which scored 240 percent higher than the national average.
An intriguing aspect to the data is that workplace meth use is (currently) far higher in the western states than in the east. Now exactly why the Aloha State leads the nation in workplace meth use is somewhat of a mystery, though the AP story says a likely possibility is that so much of the economy out here is geared toward “mind-numbing, repetitive” service industry work (coupled with the stress caused by such a high cost of living).
If that assessment is correct, then dangerous drug use is all but hard-wired into our state’s societal fabric. And that thought is so depressing it almost makes want to go back and chat with that octopus.