Puainako project rises from grave


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Puainako Street widening project has been long delayed but not forgotten.

The state Department of Transportation, after taking a long hiatus, has recently restarted the planning and design elements of the Hilo project, and tentatively scheduled completion for 2019.

The goal is to finish what transportation planners started with the Puainkao Street extension — create an uninterrupted thoroughfare between Highway 11 and Saddle Road.

Turning the two-lane road from Komohana Street to Kilauea Avenue into four lanes has existed as a concept for at least two decades.

DOT did its first environmental impact statement in 1993, outlining the design options and potential impacts. The study also included the extension of Puainako Street to Saddle Road.

The extension was completed in 2004, but a 1.5-mile stretch of the road off of Kanoelehua Avenue identified for widening has remained unimproved.

The road also remains partially disconnected, with motorists having to turn onto Komohana Street before continuing on Puainako Street. The road will be realigned through state-owned land as part of the project to eliminate the brief detour.

DOT spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said funding shortages, and the decision to conduct a second EIS in 2000, have both contributed to the delay.

The widening project was estimated at $21.7 million 12 years ago.

Sluyter said it remains in its preliminary stages and couldn’t offer an updated cost estimate.

Still, she said, completing the widening and realignment of the street remains a priority for the department.

About $945,000 has been allocated so far. DOT anticipates 80 percent of the funding to come from federal sources.

The money, Sluyter said, will be secured in segments.

“I think they are obviously looking to go forward with it,” she said of state transportation planners. “That’s why we’re going through the whole process.”

DOT held an open house on the project at Waiakea Intermediate School in October. Additional meetings may be scheduled next year.

Eli Gangano, who lives on the Puainako Street, said residents have been waiting to see improvements for a long time, and noted the absence of sidewalks, particularly for students at walking to the Waiakea Elementary and Intermediate schools.

“It’s more than long overdue,” he said.

Sidewalks will be included, Sluyter said.

DOT plans to initially widen the road between the school and Kilauea Avenue, with that work tentatively scheduled for 2017.

Crews would later complete widening the road and realigning it to connect directly with the 2004 extension.

The road will follow the new alignment just after the intermediate school.

The existing road will remain in place for local residential access. The existing traffic light at Puainako and Komohana streets would be relocated.

Waiakea Elementary School Principal Jasmine Urasaki said the project will greatly reduce congestion on the road, particularly before and after school.

“After school traffic is pretty bad,” she said.

“Especially if it rains, it’s even worse.”

Urasaki said the project won’t impact the school’s parking lot or buildings.

DOT will have to purchase portions of 32 properties along the route. Three homes are anticipated to be demolished.

Sluyter said cost estimates for acquiring a right-of-way have not been determined.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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