HILO — A proposal to widen Kuakini Highway to a planned intersection with Alii Parkway is drawing questions from residents about why the county is spending money to connect to a road that is unlikely to be constructed any time soon.
A planned Alii Parkway extension has been halted because of archaeological finds in the area. But Kuakini Highway could be expanded from Hualalai Road to an intersection with the nonexistent road by 2017, according to plans released last week.
“I don’t think it will be built in my lifetime,” said former County Councilman J. Curtis Tyler, who at 67, said he plans to live another 30 or 40 years. “Alii Highway has been off the table for a long time.”
Department of Public Works officials, however, say the intersection with the not-yet-built Alii Parkway is just the current endpoint. The county at some point plans to continue the road to the intersection of Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Mamalahoa Highway, said DPW Director Warren Lee. He said improvements to the north eventually will take it to the Old Airport Park and the police station.
“It’s a major thoroughfare to serve Kailua Village and the industrial area,” Lee said. “It’s to be a major north-south corridor.”
A public meeting to collect comments on the draft assessment is slated for 1:30 p.m. April 19 in the County Council chambers at the West Hawaii Civic Center.
The county completed the first phase of Kuakini Highway widening between Palani and Hualalai Roads in 2005 and 2006.
The current project time line calls for the project to be divided into two phases with construction commencing in mid-2015 and wrapping up in mid-2017. The county would likely be responsible for about 20 percent of the estimated $50.2 million price tag, while the federal government would cover the remainder.
Tyler thinks the money would be better spent on makai-mauka connectors, to aid in evacuations in the event of tsunamis or other natural disasters. He said it’s especially crucial to spend federal transportation dollars wisely because they may become more scarce, first because of federal budget cuts such as sequestration, and later because of the loss of Hawaii’s senior senator, Sen. Daniel Inouye, who as Appropriations Committee chairman could help steer funds to the state.
“On behalf of taxpayers and voters, the county should use its best ideas and processes to maximize public safety,” Tyler said. “Mauka-makai roads are really critical.”
The first portion of Kuakini to be completed would be the segment between Hualalai Road and Coconut Grove Marketplace, where it would meet with the future Nani Kailua Road extension. The second segment would run between the marketplace and Alii Parkway, near Kona Sea Villas, according to a draft environmental assessment released late Friday by planner Parsons Brinckerhoff. The project is expected to have no significant impacts on the area.
The county said growth in the Kona area spurred the need to complete the widening project beyond Hualalai Road. It noted in particular congestion at the intersection of Hualalai Road and Kuakini Highway, where the southbound lanes diverge with one heading straight and the other required to turn right.