Process continues to delay road project

Funding for the second phase of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project isn’t in any danger of lapsing, at least not on the federal end, officials assured the Kona Community Development Plan Action Committee Wednesday.

Several things continue to hold up the project, which was initially awarded in 2008 and held up first by contract disputes, then a number of issues related to cultural concerns and historical sites, Roy Siegel, transportation engineer with the Federal Highways Division, said.

“We recognized that there were some (historic) properties that were going to be impacted, so we went to a redesign,” Siegel said.

The redesign was relatively minor, he said, bringing the two two-lane roadways closer together than the first phase of the project, from Kealakehe Parkway toward town. Doing so lessened the impacts the project would have, removing all contact with all but one of about 15 historic trails, Siegel said.

But even less impact triggered the need for more reports and approvals, from state and federal officials, he added, acknowledging that the process was full of bureaucratic red tape.

“It is a little frustrating,” he said. “We are trying to move this in the direction of less historical impact.”

State Historic Preservation Division officials have responded in a prompt fashion, Siegel added.

Changes to one mitigation plan can also affect other mitigation plans, he said.

Planners must complete a Section 106 consultation process, which will culminate with a memorandum of agreement with Native Hawaiian organizations. That cannot be finished until federal officials get a document through another process, which Siegel referred to as Section 4F, approved.

SHPD must also then approve any data recovery of historical sites.

Only once those items are completed can Goodfellow Brothers, the project contractor, apply for grading permits.

Action committee member Ken Melrose asked Siegel if federal officials had a time line in which to complete their review. Siegel said no.

“Queen Kaahumanu is one of a kind in more ways than one,” he said, adding he had worked on projects on the mainland as well, and none faced the exact set of issues and challenges that have come up in the course of this project.

Committee member Bo Kahui also wanted to know the status of the memorandum of agreement with the Native Hawaiian organizations.

“I feel very good” about progress toward that agreement, Siegel said, then referred to one of negotiation participants, Fred Cachola. “I told him straight up, ‘Fred, we’re not going to give you everything you want.’”

Some of Cachola’s and other participants’ requests were reasonable and will be granted, Siegel said. Others were not.

Unless state officials — who Siegel said were also frustrated by the lengthy process — change their priority list, the widening project will be built.

“We have been committed from day one to the project,” Siegel said. “I have never once heard any wavering in federal highways about the project.”