Togiola: There wasn't enough money to fix all roads
Among the most satisfying accomplishments for former Gov. Togiola Tulafono during his tenure of close to ten years was the development of infrastructure, however, some residents disagree, saying that the road infrastructure itself is in its worst ever condition island-wide.
Speaking on his final radio program as governor last Saturday, Togiola said that among his proud accomplishments is that a lot of efforts were made in the development of infrastructure so that future governors do not have to invest so much time on broken infrastructure.
“... alot of investment was made to the rebuilding of infrastructure, so the maintenance for the future is not as expensive,” said Togiola. “These are some of the things that are not so visible, but are very critical.”
“Because if we did not fix the infrastructure, leading up to this time, the next administration is going to spend all their four years trying to bring it up to speed and rebuilding—and this would not be fair to the people,” he said, without providing specific examples of infrastructure rebuilding and improvements.
Some residents disagreed with Togiola’s statement for the fact that the problems with roads on Tutuila are getting worse, and not much has been done to help them up till now. So when Togiola held his last news conference on Wednesday, he was asked to provide some examples of infrastructure improvements, because there are still many complaints about the road conditions.
The governor explained that his administration had to prioritize road projects, and roads are only a small part of infrastructure, which includes buildings, schools and the hospital.
“Unfortunately, roads are one of the more expensive parts of that infrastructure. We could not raise enough monies to fix all the roads. We had to prioritize needs as the money became available,” he said, adding that what was needed was “ to put a better infrastructure between airport, seaport, hospital, schools and we believe we’ve done it.”
He went on to say that his administration had been able to improve roads beyond Pavaiai “when that was never supposed to happen” during his tenure. “ We were able to borrow monies from funds that were not used and pay it back— like the Guam federal highway funds, [which] we managed to ask for from Federal Highway, [and] we talked to Guam, who okayed it.”
“They (Guam) gave us their money and we used it. Then we paid it back as we received our funding. And we were able to get ahead of the agenda,” he pointed out. He added that the project going beyond Lauli’i was also never supposed to happen during his tenure, “but because we were able to wisely manage the monies going into other projects, we were able to come up with extra money to do that.”
Togiola acknowledged there are alot of complaints about the roads, but pointed out that “our roads are very old” built in 1962, and they were resurfaced quite a few times, but unfortunately they were never resurfaced to last a long time.
He called the resurfacing “quick fixes” by previous administrations during election times and said he wouldn’t do that during election time. “I decided to put in improvements that would last a whole lot longer then an election cycle, so that way the next administration can add on to that and be able to meet it,” he said.
Togiola predicts that if the new administration is “able to do as much as we’ve been able to do, the improvements should be able to reach, at the very least, Fagaitua in the East and perhaps Leone in the west. And that’s just thinking out loud.”
“...the roads are going to be a huge issue for the next administration as well. The only way we can do that is for us to stop all the other improvements and put all the money on the roads and that’s not fair, because we can survive with bumpy roads but we cannot survive without other things— such as schools— because we cannot delay the education of our children,” he said. “We cannot delay health care for the present generation while we build for the next generation. It just would not be fair. So we just have to take it step by step.”
One major road improvement currently underway is the Airport Road, which is funded by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration whose officials will be in the territory this week to meet with local officials on other upcoming projects and pending funding.
On-going and pending road projects are expected to be taken up by the Fono when the 33rd legislature convenes later this month.