Trucks moved along the Saddle Road realignment at a steady clip on Friday afternoon, hauling rock to be poured and graded as a base course.
The trucks kicked up dust as Goodfellow Bros. Inc. Regional Manager Ed Brown guided a tour along the 11-mile stretch that will bring Saddle Road closer to Kona by about seven miles.
Goodfellow Bros. Inc. has the $33 million contract to pave the road, which shifts Saddle Road’s junction with Mamalahoa Highway to about mile marker 14. The project, managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Central Federal Lands Highways Division, is the last major leg of the road improvement project, unless the federal government comes up with more funding to stretch the highway from Mamalahoa Highway to Queen Kaahumanu Highway.
Goodfellow began quarrying rocks for the base course at the Pohakuloa Training Area’s quarry in December, Brown said. They began working on the road path, cleared and graded by Colorado-based Kirkland Construction, about two months ago and they should be done paving in the fall.
Working with federal officials, including the military ones at PTA, has been great so far, Brown said.
“They’ve got a good plan,” he said. “They’ve got their act together. They work like a team.”
Federal officials have a thick guide, outlining exactly what they expect of their contractors. Brown said that makes his job easier.
Goodfellow has worked on several other phases of Saddle Road, earning a quality bonus for the smoothness of its paving work, Brown said. The federal agency offers other bonuses, too, for things like consistency in crushing rock for use in the base course.
At the PTA quarry, heavy equipment operators break off blue rock and separate it from pieces of rock with red cinder mixed in. The cinder, Brown said, is too porous and breaks down. Goodfellow will go through about 160,000 tons of aggregate base. A large hill of the material is already in place, towering high above the large trucks moving it from place to place. Trucking companies, including DeLuz Trucking, MTB Trucking and Big Island Topsoil, haul the rocks, getting weighed before and after picking up each load. Brown said the driver gets a ticket stating how much weight the truck is carrying, and the driver turns the ticket over before placing the rocks.
Hauling companies are paid by the ton, he said, and that’s how the amount of rocks to be paid for is determined. On a good day, a truck will make the trip back and forth 15 to 20 times. That’s 5,000 tons of base course. Goodfellow has lost nominal work time to inclement weather, mainly one day when they shut down early because thick fog rolled in. Brown’s crews are at the site 10 hours a day, six days a week. The longer hours are more productive, he said.
Because they’re building a new road, they don’t have to deal with vehicle traffic, which makes the process safer, Brown said. During other Saddle Road phases, they had traffic moving through the construction site every day.
More advanced technology helps Brown’s employees as they’re building the road. Graders are equipped with global positioning systems, which also tie into computer programs that allow Goodfellow to map the route to be graded and lets the grader operator adjust the equipment up or down as the terrain changes.
“It’s faster, it’s easier,” Brown said. “We make less mistakes. We find problems before we get out on the grade.”
Another change, just for Hawaii, is a mechanically stabilized earth wall bridge, a process designed by the University of Hawaii and federal officials and first used on Maui. The bridge’s abutments are layers of dirt and a geotechnical fabric that helps support the dirt.
“It’s faster and cheaper to build,” Brown said.
The bridge is to allow the military to move its vehicles under Saddle Road, instead of crossing it, about halfway between Mamalahoa Highway and where the new road will join the old.
People have told Brown they’re excited to see the new road finished. The realigned road will be good for his company, he said, because he has a number of employees who live in Hilo, but work on West Hawaii jobs.
Goodfellow employs about 25 Big Island workers on the Saddle Road project, and Brown estimated he would employ another 15 workers when paving begins in April.
“It helps us put a lot of local guys back to work,” Brown said. “We’ve hired a lot of guys who were on the bench.”