Sunday | April 19, 2015
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Kuakini widening in the works

Kuakini Highway’s four lanes could extend beyond Hualalai Road as soon as 2017 as the County of Hawaii and Federal Highway Administration move forward with planning.

The Department of Public Works and the federal administration are looking to widen the highway to four lanes between Hualalai Road and a planned intersection with the long-proposed Alii Highway, near Kona Sea Villas, according to a draft environmental assessment released late Friday by planner Parsons Brinckerhoff. Officials say the project will have no significant impacts on the area.

The planned improvements would include increasing vehicle capacity, enhancing pedestrian facilities, improving roadway drainage and other features. It will also enhance emergency access and evacuation routes.

The department also plans to improve the road’s visual appearance by relocating utility poles and landscaping. Bike lanes, intersection improvements, crosswalks and American with Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalks are included in the plans.

Three alternatives are being considered: No action;

Building within the current county right-of-way, which is 80 feet; and

Building outside the county right-of-way in areas — planners say it would cost less because fewer and shorter retaining walls would be needed.

Based on conceptual engineering, building within the current right-of-way would cost about $50.2 million while building beyond the right-of-way alternative would cost about $45.2 million.

The county would likely be responsible for about 20 percent of the cost while the federal government would cover the remainder.

The current project time line calls for the current project to be divided into two phases with construction commencing in mid-2015 and wrapping up in mid-2017.

The first portion to be complete would be the segment between Hualalai Road to Coconut Grove Marketplace, where it would meet with the future Nani Kailua Road extension. The second segment would run between the marketplace and Alii Highway, which has yet to be built and for which no time frame of construction for the northern segment has been given.

A public meeting to collect comments on the draft assessment is slated for 1:30 p.m. April 19 at the West Hawaii Civic Center in the County Council Chambers.

The county said growth in the Kona area spurred the need to complete the widening project beyond Hualalai Road. It noted in particular congestion at the intersection of Hualalai Road and Kuakini Highway, where the southbound lanes diverge with one heading straight and the other required to turn right.

“By 2020, traffic is expected to increase significantly as future development along Kuakini Highway and in the surrounding area occurs. Additional roadway capacity is needed to handle the projected increase in traffic volume that will accompany development,” the assessment reads. “If Kuakini Highway is not improved, by 2020 vehicles at all intersections within the project limits are projected to experience long delays and severe congestion.”

The project is included in the current Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which identifies priority transportation projects slated for federal funding, and the Hawaii Long Range Land Transportation Plan, which assists in the long-term planning of transportation through 2035.

While the assessment found no historic sites would be impacted, the county noted that it will work to protect Laniakea Cave, a historic lava tube that passes below Kuakini Highway, just north of the Kailua Village Condominiums. A segment of the Great Wall of Kuakini and other historic features would also be protected, if needed.

“The county would make reasonable efforts to investigate the course and depth of this cave in more detail during the design phase. If it is determined that the cave is shallower than previously believed, roadway improvements may involve bridging over the cave so the roof of the cave would not be breached. If piles were required, they would be placed beyond the limits of the cave,” the assessment reads.

The county completed the first phase of Kuakini Highway widening in between Palani and Hualalai Roads in 2005 and 2006.

Comments on the draft EA are due by April 22 and should be sent to the Hawaii County Department of Public Works’ Engineering Division at Building D First Floor, 74-5044 Ane Keohokalole Highway, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740; the Office of Environmental Quality Control, 235 South Beretania St., Suite 702, Honolulu, HI 96813; and Jim Hayes, Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., 1001 Bishop St., Suite 2400, Honolulu, HI 96813.