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Let’s move forward on Queen K embarrassment

December 11, 2016 - 12:05am

The silence makes much more sense now.

After several weeks of reporters asking, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) responded to West Hawaii Today last week with more details behind why the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project completion date has been pushed back by a year — late 2018 now — and why those big construction rigs are sitting idle in the meantime.

At first, the state said that the delay was due to archaeological impacts by the project. Awfully vague, we thought.

Finally, after more reporter pestering over a couple of months, the state said construction had damaged around 140 feet of historical trails nearby, and that it forgot or overlooked to account for the full scope of the “area of potential effect” the project would require.

Simply put, the area of potential effect refers to an area in which the character or use of historical properties might be altered by construction projects, according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

More simple yet, it just didn’t include how side roads could be impacted with the highway project.

It’s still not known why the state take that into account, as there were a few questions the DOT didn’t answer, including that last one, as well as how much, if any, will this setback cost taxpayers?

So it is understandable why the state wasn’t champing at the bit to answer these questions when reporters called and called (and emailed).

Because — and as a newspaper that’s issued corrections before so we kick these teeth lightly — it’s embarrassing.

The reasons for delay makes the project leaders look lackadaisical at best, inept at worst. We doubt that’s the reality, however, the communication line from DOT to the public hasn’t helped.

Once upon a time the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project was the ultimate sign of progress. Widening the major West Hawaii artery from two lanes to four was necessary, as the leeward side’s population grew — and why wouldn’t it, such a calling this side of the island has.

The first phase, which widened lanes from Henry Street to Kealakehe Parkway, finished in 2007. And it was all smiles when the current Phase 2 broke ground in September 2015.

The project, tabbed at $90 million at the time, will expand the stretch of road between Kealakehe Parkway and Keahole Airport Road. New lights, signals and lighting are expected to accompany the widening.

But that was then.

Lately, the project has been a point of frustration for residents who have wondered, along with the paper, what the hold up was. The longer the big rigs sat idle without answers, frustration turned to embarrassment, with some readers writing letters to the editor mocking the situation.

The Kona Crawl, one reader dubbed creeping along the highway through funneled orange cones while the trucks nearby collected dust.

It’s too bad, the turn it’s taken.

But we’re here now, in a spot which better planning and communication could have prevented. Regardless, the project has to move forward and it’s up to the state to get it there — and it certainly will — while letting the public know every step of the way.

It’ll be nice when that happens and the project represents progress again, instead of something that solicits eye rolls.

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