Hawaii County officials have downsized proposed improvements to Alii Drive, while still attempting to create a wider space for pedestrians walking on the mauka side of the road fronting the Kona Islander Inn and the Kona Alii condo building.
The original plan was to undertake a more extensive road project along about 2,200 feet of Alii Drive, “but was ultimately cancelled because of the extent of disturbance that would have occurred in the shoreline area makai of Alii Drive, where there are important natural and cultural resources,” a draft environmental assessment filed this week said. “The proposed project addresses critical pedestrian deficiencies at Alii Drive that can be remedied without substantial disturbance to shoreline resources or private property.”
The older plan was considered from about 2004 to 2010, the document said.
The Public Works Department plans to widen the mauka shoulder near those buildings, remove existing low walls and vegetation, build a new mortared lava rock wall and replace signs, utility boxes and crosswalks that will be temporarily removed.
To do so will require closing one lane of the road during the day for about three months.
The project will create a “consistent five feet” of shoulder along about 350 feet of road, the assessment said. Right now, the shoulder there is as narrow as 1.5 feet, it said. The project is estimated to cost $250,000.
Widening the shoulder to 10 feet would allow for a bike lane, but that isn’t a feasible project, the assessment said.
“(Building the bike lane) would also entail encroaching substantially into the shoreline and/or eliminating the gracefully planted margin of Alii Drive, seriously degrading the landscape of palm trees and lava walls,” the assessment said. “Such a 350-foot long bicycle lane would be isolated — with no current or prospective future matching lanes in the north or south — and would be of extremely limited utility.”
Further, the assessment said, the speed limit on that part of Alii Drive is 15 mph, which allows for cyclists to use the road lanes.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources’ State Historic Preservation Division officials in January expressed some concerns about the project’s potential impact on three historic properties — a historic era stone wall, a precontact enclosure with subsurface cultural deposits and a complex of papa mu and petroglyphs. Archaeology Branch Chief Theresa Donham requested more information to complete its assessment of the project.
Public Works officials said they anticipated a finding of no significant impact.
The earlier improvements project plan was to work on Alii Drive from Hualalai Road to Walua Road and on both shoulders. The county proposed a bike lane. It was an $8.6 million project, which was to be funded from federal, state and county sources.