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Highway 130 funding in flux

Updated: 
September 11, 2017 - 10:08pm

HILO — The state Department of Transportation might need to keep its options open for how it spends $40 million added to the state’s capital budget for improving Highway 130.

Donald Smith, DOT’s Hawaii Island district engineer, told the Tribune-Herald on Saturday that the money added last legislative session won’t be enough to add lanes all the way from Hawaiian Paradise Park to Pahoa, assuming the funds are released.

“It might not strictly be widening,” he said, regarding how the money could be used, after speaking during a Puna road forum in HPP. “It might be an intersection improvement that would keep in mind the future widening. There’s not enough money to widen the whole way by a long shot.”

There are no plans yet for how to spend the money.

As DOT officials previously noted, Smith said a 2011 environmental assessment for Highway 130 improvements might need to be refreshed since parts could be outdated.

“You go back and look to see if anything has changed,” he said. “If it all remains the same then the same information still applies, and it’s not as difficult of a process.”

If the EA still stands, then planning and design work can begin, Smith added, and the department can later ask for funds to be released.

One project, adding a traffic light to the intersection of Highway 130 and Shower Drive, remains ongoing.

That nearly $4 million project initially was expected to be done in August but was delayed after a storm water discharge permit expired.

Smith said during the meeting he anticipated it being done early next year, but later told a reporter after checking with staff that end of November remains the target.

In the meantime, he said he plans to restripe the highway from Keaau to Shower Drive to make four lanes available around the clock. Currently, that stretch of road has two travel lanes with shoulder lanes open during rush hour.

“Hopefully, I will have that done next month,” said Smith, who started the job in June. “It’s just restriping. I already got room.”

He said he also is talking with DOT administration about lowering the speed limit on the highway to reduce fatalities.

The forum in HPP was hosted by state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, D-Puna.

Meanwhile, Hawaii County is working on a Puna road master plan that piggybacks off the efforts of the Puna Community Development Plan’s connectivity subcommittee, which completed its own connectivity plan, and a council ad hoc committee.

The master plan committee includes representatives of the PCDP group and county officials.

The committee’s goal is to prioritize potential connections between Puna subdivisions that could be used by local residents or in case of an emergency or blocked highway.

Identifying funding sources is a major issue. The committee, which includes Puna council members Jen Ruggles and Eileen O’Hara, on Friday discussed local improvement districts or grants as options. State funding was not seen as a likely source.

An environmental assessment completed in January looked at options for connecting subdivisions in upper Puna.

Allan Simeon, acting Public Works director, said the department is in the planning stages for extending Puhala Street in Fern Acres to South Kopua Road.

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

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