The state Department of Transportation won’t be starting construction on Queen Kaahumanu Highway this month, and just when construction will begin is unclear.
DOT Director Glenn Okimoto, in a written statement posted on the DOT’s website Tuesday, said the department has several steps to take before road work begins on the long-awaited highway widening project. The update was also published Friday on buildqueenk.com.
“Recent news articles suggested that work on the highway widening project was targeted for September 2012,” Okimoto’s letter stated. “Unfortunately, as anxious as we are to begin physical work on this important project, we have a number of tasks still left unaccomplished before we can begin.”
West Hawaii Today reported Aug. 21 the department was planning to begin construction this month. That article was based on information a DOT spokesman provided to West Hawaii Today, via email, confirming the construction start date.
“The projected start date for the Queen Kaahumanu Hwy., Phase II, construction is still in September 2012,” the DOT’s Derek Inoshita wrote on Aug. 20.
DOT spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said Wednesday that the department does not have a specific construction date.
“The process is ongoing,” she said. “We don’t have a date set at this time.”
Construction has not been put off indefinitely, she added.
Sluyter declined to provide specifics on a memorandum of understanding between the DOT and a Native Hawaiian hui that expressed concerns about the project earlier this year.
“It would be premature to discuss” the document before it is completed, she said.
The State Historic Preservation Division is still reviewing the DOT’s data recovery and preservation plan for sites near the highway. Only after SHPD completes that review will the DOT begin the field work to document the sites. The Hawaii Island Burial Council approved a plan to preserve a burial in place, with a 27-foot construction buffer and 75-foot separation between the burial and the highway.
The DOT and the Federal Highways Division, which participated in the Section 106 consultation process, have yet to complete a document that “memorializes the agreements made to date and the actions to be taken.”
West Hawaii drivers have been waiting for several years to see construction on the $76 million project. The DOT awarded the contract to Goodfellow Bros. in 2008, but losing contractors initiated a series of challenges to the bidding and award process, delaying final award until 2010.
In spring of 2011, DOT officials reported inadvertent archaeological finds of some kind near the project’s southern end, near Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park. The Native Hawaii hui approached the DOT with concerns about those finds, officials told West Hawaii Today last fall. The construction start date was pushed back from May 2011 to mid-November, then to April of this year, then to August or September.
The federally mandated Section 106 process required the DOT to consult with Native Hawaiians prior to proceeding with construction. Several Hawaiians came forward last year requesting that consultation. An attempt to reach anyone directly involved in those consultations was not successful Wednesday.