Saddle Road improvements higher on priorities list


The state Department of Transportation is making completion of Saddle Road improvements a priority as it maps out projects to finish during the next four years with its share of federal funds.

That includes the widening and realignment of the eastern leg of the cross-island route, renamed the Daniel K. Inouye Highway after the late U.S. senator.

That segment was added as a new project with recent revisions of DOT’s draft statewide transportation improvement program for fiscal years 2015-18.

At a meeting Tuesday evening in Hilo, DOT officials said the department is giving the project a higher priority in hopes of completing the remaining phases. An extension of the road to Queen Kaahumanu Highway is also listed in the plan.

As a result, the Puainako Street widening project in Hilo will be delayed.

With the focus on Saddle Road, STIP manager Patrick Tom said the state won’t have enough funds to break ground on the Puainako project, which also would line up the street east of Komohana Street with the Puainako extension.

The draft plan previously listed phase one of the Puainako improvements, estimated at $30 million, beginning in fiscal year 2018. Fiscal years start Oct. 1.

The construction timeline for that project is now removed from the plan, and Tom said it’s unclear when the work will begin.

The state gets a fixed amount of federal money each year, not including grants, which means not everything can make the cut, DOT officials said during the meeting regarding the draft plan.

That amount is about $163 million. Hawaii Island gets about 18 percent of those funds, which are typically used to cover 80 percent of project costs.

For the eastern portion of Saddle Road, the draft plan lists two construction phases, one for $27 million and the other for $24 million, to occur in fiscal year 2015, though that is subject to change. That project will widen and straighten the road between mile markers 6 and 11.

While listed as a “new project” following the revision, the plan notes it was originally in the STIP for fiscal years 2011-14.

DOT has sought federal grants to help fund that project, though it so far has been unsuccessful.

The extension to Queen Kaahumanu Highway is expected to cost $1.5 million. The plan lists those funds being spent in fiscal year 2015.

The plan is scheduled to be finalized Oct. 1.

The last of four Big Island meetings about the document is slated for 6 p.m. today at Kealakehe Intermediate School.

Meetings were also hosted in Pahoa and Waimea this week.

To view the plan, visit hidot.hawaii.gov/highways/stip-fiscal-years-2015-2018-2-development-information.

The updated plan is known as the financially constrained version, which reflects the amount of money the state will receive.

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