HILO — The highway joining East and West Hawaii might not be known as “the Saddle” much longer.
State Sen. Malama Solomon, a Democrat whose district covers the north side of the island from Kona to Hilo, has sponsored a bill renaming Saddle Road the “Daniel K. Inouye Legacy Highway.”
The bill, SB 50, has a lot of support, with 15 other senators signing on as co-sponsors. It has been referred to a single committee, Transportation and International Affairs.
The bill notes that Inouye, who died Dec. 17, “was instrumental in obtaining federal highway funds” for the road. The bill goes on to establish that “the renaming of Saddle Road under this act shall not be deemed to affect any federal or state funding for Saddle Road.”
Solomon sponsored the bill to recognize Inouye’s work on the Big Island, not in an attempt to ensure funding for the ongoing project, Roth Puahala, her office manager, said Friday.
“It would be up to our congressional delegation,” Puahala said. “The state would have no jurisdiction over the money.”
Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi has also said he’d be reaching out to federal and state agencies to have the name officially changed. He couldn’t be reached for further comment Friday.
Kenoi drew applause during a Dec. 27 memorial service for Inouye when he said he’d seek the name change.
“It was his contribution to all of us,” said Kenoi, a former intern for the late senator.
Inouye had championed the Saddle Road project, noting the need to improve access to Pohakuloa Training Area for all military branches, as well as the cross-island highway for island residents. In 2009, at a dedication for a completed phase of the road realignment project, Inouye vowed to remain in Congress until the road was finished. Work on the third phase of realignment, from about mile marker 42 to Mamalahoa Highway, began in 2011. A fourth phase, from Mamalahoa Highway to Waikoloa Beach Drive, is in the early planning stages.
The first three phases of construction have cost about $120 million, with funding mostly coming from military and federal transportation coffers. The fourth phase is estimated to cost $45 million to $50 million, and no money has yet been appropriated.
Hawaii’s two U.S. senators have indicated they’ll try to get funding, but they could make no guarantees. Inouye, as one of the longest-serving senators and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, had an easier time bringing money home to the island, compared to the state’s now fledgling legislative delegation in Washington D.C.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, the Democrat appointed to fill Inouye’s unexpired term, has been assigned to the Commerce, Science and Transportation committees, putting him a good position to seek more money for the road.
“We’re going to work very hard on that,” Schatz told West Hawaii Today earlier this month, adding that advocating for federal money for Hawaii projects is a big component of the congressional delegation’s job.
Another bill Solomon is sponsoring, SB 100, renames the East-West Center in Honolulu the “Daniel K. Inouye East-West Center.”