Residents question Kuakini Highway widening proposal


By CHELSEA JENSEN

Stephens Media

Residents got a better look at the proposed widening of Kuakini Highway to four lanes as soon as 2017 during a public meeting held Friday in Kailua-Kona.

Some attendees questioned the need to widen Kuakini Highway now, rather than extending Nani Kailua Drive or building other roads to improve circulation and reduce congestion while others wondered how Hawaii County will pay for the road, which is expected to cost at least $45 million.

The county would likely be responsible for about 20 percent of the cost while the federal government would cover the remainder, said Kai Emler, project manager and an engineer with the county Department of Public Works. The county funding would likely be derived from Hawaii County Council allocations or the floating of a general obligation bond.

The Department of Public Works and the Federal Highway Administration are looking to widen the highway to four lanes between Hualalai Road and a planned intersection with the long-proposed Alii Highway, near Kona Sea Villas, according to a draft environmental assessment by planner Parsons Brinckerhoff. Officials say the project will have no significant impacts on the area.

The planned improvements would include increasing vehicle capacity, enhancing pedestrian facilities, improving roadway drainage and other features. It would also enhance emergency access and evacuation routes, according to the planner.

More than a dozen people showed up for a two-hour public meeting to discuss the draft assessment at the West Hawaii Civic Center’s County Council chambers. No testimony was taken during the meeting; attendees were, however, encouraged to take part in a question-and-answer session, as well as to submit written testimony.

Several people who attended the meeting expressed concern over parking should the county require additional right-of-way near the Kona Islander Inn.

According to Kona Islander Board of Directors member Patrick Rude, the complex has 142 units and just 54 parking stalls. Some residents park their vehicles on both sides of the highway.

“Can you make a concession to try to get some parking out of there?” he asked.

Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Hayes said that would be taken into consideration.

Another attendee, Josephine Keliipio, who took part in the first phase of planning, asked planners to not clutter sidewalks. She also asked planners to assess what issues and problems, such as speeding and cutting in and out of traffic, have come to light since the first phase was completed in 2005-06 so they are not repeated.

“I’m frustrated with the repeat I am seeing here from Phase I,” she said, later saying Lunapule Road needs to be improved if planners put a signal at the Walua Road and Kuakini Highway intersection.

Three alternatives are being considered: No action; building within the current county right-of-way, which is 80 feet; and building outside the county right-of-way in areas — planners say it would cost less because fewer and shorter retaining walls would be needed.

Based on conceptual engineering, building within the current right-of-way would cost about $50.2 million while building beyond the right-of-way alternative would cost about $45.2 million.

The current time line calls for the current project to be divided into two phases with construction commencing in mid-2015 and wrapping up in mid-2017.

The county completed the first phase of Kuakini Highway widening between Palani and Hualalai roads in 2005 and 2006.

A final environmental assessment for Phase II is expected to be completed by the end of 2013, Hayes said. All permitting and engineering should wrap up by late 2014 with construction expected to commence in mid-2015.

Comments on the draft EA are due or must be postmarked by Monday and should be sent to the Hawaii County Department of Public Works’ Engineering Division at Building D First Floor, 74-5044 Ane Keohokalole Highway, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740; the Office of Environmental Quality Control, 235 South Beretania St., Suite 702, Honolulu, HI 96813; and Jim Hayes, Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., 1001 Bishop St., Suite 2400, Honolulu, HI 96813.

Comments can also be emailed to Kai Emler at kemler@co.hawaii.hi.us.

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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