Archaelogical concerns push back Queen Kaahumanu Highway intersection improvements at Kawaihae Road


A possible burial site is likely the cause of the latest delay in the Kawaihae Road intersection work at Queen Kaahumanu Highway.

Department of Transportation officials told state Sen. Malama Solomon, D-North Hawaii, that they were working with the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ State Historic Preservation Division on the issue. Solomon said she was disappointed in the delay, but understood why the state had to take the time to comply with federal requirements regarding consultation with Native Hawaiians and addressing the burial issue before acquiring the right of way to fix the intersection.

Right of way acquisition, most recently scheduled for this year, was pushed back to the 2015 federal fiscal year, which starts in October 2014, Jadine Urasaki, DOT deputy director of projects, said in an email to Solomon late Tuesday.

That will push construction back at least another year, South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee Chairman Gunner Mench said.

“This should have been done five years ago,” Mench added.

The project is estimated to cost about $1.5 million, with the bulk of the funding coming from the federal government.

Mench said he has seen traffic back up from the intersection all the way to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel entrance during busier tourism seasons. He has had to put his car sideways in the intersection several times because of other drivers pulling out in front of him.

“It’s a challenge,” said Mench, who owns Harbor Gallery in Kawaihae. “You have people that don’t understand who has the right of way at the intersection.”

Drivers on Queen Kaahumanu Highway have a stop sign, while drivers on Kawaihae Road do not.

Mench said he has also questioned the state’s decision not to install a traffic signal at the intersection. State officials have told him the traffic counts don’t warrant a light, but Mench disagreed. He said the only time he sees equipment out to take traffic counts is when school isn’t in session or during a slow tourism season.

“I have a problem with that,” he said. “They say they account for it. I don’t buy it.”

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille said the intersection has been a concern because of the “clear safety issue.”

Wille had also heard about the discovery of archaeological sites, which were possibly slowing the road’s progress. She said she wondered if the county could do archaeological surveys in a segmented fashion, rather than taking the entire project area into consideration at one time.

The DOT also delayed Keaau-Pahoa Road intersections improvements at Old Government Road, according to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program list, which was recently given its 16th revision since 2011. That $5.5 million project needs an archaeological monitoring plan before it can move forward.

A DOT spokesman did not respond to a request for additional information as of press time about the Kawaihae Road project Wednesday.