More delays in Kawaihae-Queen Kaahumanu intersection work


The state Department of Transportation won’t be taking bids on improvements to the Kawaihae Road intersection with Queen Kaahumanu Highway for another two years.

For nearly a decade, South Kohala residents and workers have been asking for changes at the intersection, where two people died in a traffic crash last year, South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee Chairman Gunner Mench said Monday. “It’s been delayed so many times,” Mench said. “It’s unsafe.”

Motorists trying to turn left from Kawaihae Road onto Queen Kaahumanu Highway don’t always realize they need to yield to oncoming traffic, a situation Mench has found himself in dozens of times driving back and forth from his gallery in Kawaihae. He has been trying to get the state to fix the intersection — he would like to see a traffic light there — for eight years. The project has been pushed back several times since 2009. Most recently, state officials said work would start this year.

DOT spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said the state delayed the $1.5 million project for financial reasons. Officials expect the project will get 80 percent of its funding from federal sources, with the state picking up the remaining 20 percent. Sluyter said the project could get started sooner if money becomes available.

The project includes a new right-turn lane from northbound Queen Kaahumanu Highway to eastbound Kawaihae Road, a new right-turn lane from eastbound Kawaihae Road to southbound Queen Kaahumanu Highway, lengthening the existing left turn lane from westbound Kawaihae Road to southbound Queen Kaahumanu Highway and a new acceleration lane for vehicles turning left from northbound Queen Kaahumanu Highway to westbound Kawaihae Road.

Mench said state officials several years ago attributed some project delays to archaeological sites discovered in the land DOT needed to acquire to add new lanes. Sluyter did not respond by press time to a question about whether those issues have been resolved.

Hawaii County replaced a light pole adjacent to the intersection several times, including three times in one year, after vehicles knocked it down, Mench said. The county has since moved the light poles to prevent drivers from hitting them, he said.