Gov. David Ige stands in front of a towering construction crane Thursday at Kahului Airport. He said construction crews were making “tremendous progress” on the airport’s new $340 million consolidated rental car facility.
• The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo

Wearing a hard hat, a bright orange safety vest and dark sunglasses, Gov. David Ige inspected the work in progress at Kahului Airport’s $340 million consolidated rental car facility Thursday afternoon as sky-high cranes hoisted construction materials in place and workers prepared forms and rebars for concrete pours.

“It’s tremendous progress,”

Ige said. “The last time I was here it was a big hole in the ground. It’s terrific to see how much progress they’ve made in such a short period of time.”

Work on the massive facility is a little more than 40 percent complete, with project completion expected in about a year, said Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara.

Plans call for constructing a three-story, 1.3 million-square-foot building covering roughly 19 acres and containing rental car company offices, customer-service counters and nearly 4,500 parking stalls (3,800 for rental car companies and 700 for employee parking). A solar electric-powered tram will be built on a rail system and replace two dozen shuttle buses that carry passengers in an average of 85 trips per hour to rental car companies makai of the airport terminal.

Gov. David Ige (center) inspects work on Kahului Airport’s $340 million consolidated rental car facility Thursday afternoon while meeting with construction workers.
• The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo

Ige said that the solar-powered tram will help advance the state’s clean energy goals.

“It’s totally electric, so we’re reducing (fossil fuel) emissions,” he said.

The governor also expressed support for a Senate bill — now pending before state lawmakers — that would create the Hawaii Airport Corp. as an entity to consolidate the ownership, control and management of the state’s airport system. It would take that responsibility from the state’s Transportation Department, although that department would be administratively attached to the corporation.

Senate Bill 658 advanced to a conference committee this year, but lawmakers were unable to achieve final passage of the measure supported by the Department of Transportation. Next year, legislators may pick up where they left off.

Referring to the Kahului rental car facility’s construction, Ige said Transportation Department Director Ford Fuchigami and his team “have done a terrific job in moving the project forward, but we are pursuing the airport authority because we believe even with the work that has been done we can do better.”

He pointed out that the state’s $2.7 billion airport modernization program was approved in 2007 “but nothing happened for many, many years.”

“We look at other airports across the country — San Francisco airport, L.A. Airport — and because they are more self-contained, independent authorities they are able to move their improvements through the system faster,” Ige said. “I think that’s what we’re interested in doing, seeing how we can work with the private sector and look at different alternatives that really allow us to help deliver better value. . . . We believe that going to an independent authority would allow us to be more responsive and flexible to the needs of the industry. More importantly I think it will allow us to do the job quicker.”

Funds for construction of the consolidated rental car facility come from a pool of money generated by customers who pay $4.50 a day to rent vehicles in Hawaii. Funds for the airport corporation would come from fees paid by airlines and other airport vendors.

During this year’s legislative session, the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association submitted written testimony in favor of establishing the airport corporation.

The association “believes that this measure could facilitate the completion of long-needed airport improvements and create a platform for integrated planning that will greatly benefit the traveling public,” its testimony said. “These much-needed improvements will be paid for by the airlines and concessionaires that use the airports, together with the existing passenger facility charges already included in every airfare.

“The first and last impressions of our visitors occur at our airports,” the association said. “The hospitality industry’s progress is very dependent on the quality of our airports.”

Hawaii Government Employees Association Executive Director Randy Perreira submitted testimony opposed to the bill.

“The bill advances the notion that such a corporation addresses delayed decision-making and inefficiency resulting from multiple agencies involved in the planning, development and operation of Hawaii’s airport infrastructure,” Perreira said. “We assert that multiple agencies, each with their own area of responsibility, are rightly involved to collectively protect the public interest.”

He reminded lawmakers of the “negative impacts” of the similarly independent public corporation, Hawaii Health Systems Corp., established in 1996 with “the intent of freeing the community hospital system from bureaucratic oversight and red tape.”

“The effects of the inefficiencies, mismanagement and lack of accountability of that public corporation are continuing to disrupt families and communities in the Maui region and statewide,” Perreira said.

While touring the construction site Thursday, Ige said the project is creating a lot of jobs.

“I’m excited to see all of the activity here,” he said. “It will end up being a terrific facility and asset for the people of Maui.”

Project construction began April 15, 2016. After work on the facility is completed in about a year, the building will be available for tenants to make improvements to their offices, customer counters and other facilities before opening for business, he said.

Sakahara added that the tram and roadway improvements should improve traffic conditions in and around the airport.

More than a dozen airlines fly in and out of Kahului Airport, which serves an average of nearly 8,000 passengers daily, transportation officials said. Maui rental car companies lead the state in the volume of car rentals, lending out an average of 2,200 cars daily, more than twice the amount rented in Honolulu.

* Brian Perry can be reached at [email protected]

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