By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Traffic cones and lane closures may become common sights for motorists driving to downtown Hilo next year.
Hawaii County will be rehabilitating portions of Kilauea and Kamehameha avenues near the town’s commercial core, with both projects scheduled to occur almost back-to-back.
Kilauea Avenue between Ponahawai and Pauahi streets will be first.
That $1.5 million project, awarded to Yamada and Sons, will begin Jan. 2 and end in March. Along with new pavement, it will also include drainage improvements and an upgraded pedestrian crossing near Kukuau Street.
Roadwork on Kamehameha Avenue between Ponahawai Street and the canoe parking lot on the Hamakua side of the Wailoa River bridge will follow in May. The project is estimated to take 18 months to complete and will include new pavement, sidewalks, curb ramps, a bike lane, street lights, and signal changes at the Pauahi Street intersection.
The project is estimated at $15 million, with 80 percent of the cost covered with federal funds.
Lane closures will occur from approximately 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday for both projects.
It’s unclear how many months lane closures will occur on Kamehameha Avenue since a traffic plan hasn’t been made, said Noelani Whittington, Public Works public information specialist. That will occur after a contractor is selected.
The project will go out to bid Wednesday, she said.
At least two lanes — one in each direction — will remain open on both roads during construction. Whittington said drivers should be aware of potential delays.
Parade organizers may also have to worry.
Kamehameha Avenue is a major route for the several parades that happen each year. Whittington said organizers may have to make adjustments for the long duration of construction.
Dan Kama, organizer of the Veterans Day parade, said the county told him he will have to find a new spot for the viewing stand and large U.S. flag that is flown over the road.
“It can be done,” he said, “but I’m a particular guy. Strictly for the military, for the vets, I got to be very careful where I put the flag let alone the viewing stand.”
Whittington said work on Kilauea Avenue will be done before the Merrie Monarch festival’s parade, which uses both roads.
Work on Kamehameha Avenue is scheduled to begin after the festival, which runs March 31 to April 6, though there may be an impact on the 2014 parade.
Alice Moon, Hilo Downtown Improvement Association executive director, said she is concerned about the impacts to parades but thinks the projects will overall have a minimal effect on downtown.
“I’m personally happy to hear they are doing it,” she said. “I think to put up with that for a period of time to have better egress and ingress into downtown is not a bad thing.”
Moon said she had not heard of concerns yet from any downtown merchants about the upcoming work.
At least one business owner will be glad to see it.
Kim Tokihiro, owner of Hilo Floral Designs, said she has dealt with frequent flooding at her store on Kilauea Avenue, and has even had to use sand bags.
The reconstruction work will result in better drainage outside her shop, the county has told her, relieving her of a near constant source of frustration.
“We always get flooded,” she said, “whenever we get a big rain.”
Tokihiro said she will also be glad to see lights installed at the crosswalk near her shop.
The crosswalk is located between Kukuau and Ponahawai streets, and is invisible to many motorists, she said.
“I get scared for the old people when they cross the street,” Tokihiro said, noting that it’s difficult to get the attention of drivers in all four lanes.
Whittington said traffic cameras will be installed at the intersection of Pauahi Street and Kamehameha Avenue.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.