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Ground broken on last phase of Mamalahoa bypass

Updated: 
July 30, 2014 - 12:05am

Contractors will begin work Monday on the final phase of the Mamalahoa Highway bypass.

County officials and dignitaries broke ground on the $27.9 million project Tuesday with an eye to finish sometime in early 2016. The long-awaited completion of a highway to ease congestion along Hawaii Belt Road had been mired in litigation and bankruptcy.

“Thank God it’s finally happening,” Meg Greenwell said in remarks at the ceremony. “Just opening the first half has made an incredible difference for workers commuting from Ocean View and South Kona.”

Isemoto Contracting submitted the lowest bid for the concrete roadway, which will extend the bypass 2.2 miles from Halekii Street in Kealakekua to an intersection with a traffic signal at Napoopoo Road. The roadwork will cost $14.8 million. The reconstruction of the Napoopoo Road and Mamalahoa Highway intersection has a price tag of $13.1 million and will start later this year, Public Works Director Warren Lee said.

“The (intersection) project is engineered so that fill material here can be used at the intersection, so we gave the road a little head start,” Lee said at the ground breaking behind the barricades at the south end of the bypass.

The 3.5-mile segment of the road extends south from the end of Alii Drive. It opened in 2009 with restrictions on hours and vehicle types which were lifted last year.

Mayor Billy Kenoi said the important thing is that people will be spending more time at home with their families rather than being frustrated and stuck in traffic.

“It’s never about asphalt, infrastructure,” Kenoi said. “It’s about family. It makes a big difference when people get out of their car after 40 minutes instead of two hours. There’s a little less aloha after two hours.”

The bypass was a requirement of a development package for the 1250 Oceanside Hokulia project in the 1990s, although plans for the road go back to at least the 1970s. Developers were able to complete the first portion but the project foundered in attempts to secure land by eminent domain for the second part.

Sun Kona, an affiliate of the investment firm Sun Kona Finance I LLC, acquired the loans for the project in late 2012 and filed for bankruptcy the following March. Under a reorganization plan, Sun Kona paid the county $20 million and interest in June to resolve its predecessor’s debt.

Lineal descendant of the region Jimmy Medeiros said the bypass will be a relief for his wife, who works in Kaloko.

“It takes her an hour to an hour and a half to get to work,” he said.

Under the construction plan, the intersection of Hawaii Belt and Napoopoo roads will be moved slightly south, where the bypass will join up. The intersection will have turning lanes and left-turn pockets, and will require a retaining wall.

First steps for the road project include laying out the right of way, grubbing and grading.