Construction on the next phase of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project should begin next month.
Department of Transportation spokesman Derek Inishita said Monday the notice to proceed for the long-planned project should be issued within the next few weeks, with construction to begin in September.
He declined to provide details on the recently completed Section 106 consultation process, a federal procedure in which Native Hawaiian organizations meet with transportation officials prior to construction on any potential impacts the work could have on cultural resources. He said more information on the end result of the consultation process — which restarted in 2011, several years after the project was to begin — would be available later, after DOT officials completed paperwork to file with the federal government.
The state has been trying to begin the project, which is the second phase of widening following earlier expansion of the road from Henry Street to Kealakehe Parkway. The project will double the highway lanes from Kealakehe Parkway to Kona International Airport, adding a signalized intersection at Hulikoa Drive and closing off left turn access to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii. The DOT agreed to expand the intersection of Kaiminani Drive and Queen Kaahumanu Highway, to create an intersection to which a to-be-built internal NELHA road can connect.
In 2008, the DOT first awarded Goodfellow Bros. Inc. the project. Two companies protested consecutive bid awards, with Goodfellow Bros. eventually remaining the contractor for the $76 million project. 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. A 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 August or September.
The delays, and the federal consultation process, irked Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who spoke out against the delays at a Kona Kohala Chamber of Commerce event in March.
He questioned the Native Hawaiian hui, suggesting the group was a “self-designating” organization, grabbing onto cultural protections and environmental protections and seek standing to prevent action in areas they decided they needed cultural activities “discovered six minutes ago.”
“If we don’t have some relief, this is going to cause jobs not to occur and there’s no good reason for it,” Abercrombie said.
Goodfellow Brothers’ region manager Ed Brown told West Hawaii Today earlier this month the delays have left 80 to 100 construction workers “on the bench” waiting for work.
The company has its baseyard on Kealakehe Parkway in place awaiting the notice to proceed.