Started at the bottom and now we’re here


The Laaloa Avenue extension — a long-sought mauka-makai connector road between Alii Drive and Kuakini Highway — is on its way to becoming reality.

A 1,900-foot segment of road that will run from above Laaloa Avenue’s intersection with Laelae Street and provide multimodal transit between Alii Drive and Kuakini Highway broke ground Friday. Isemoto Contracting Co. won the $7.87 million bid to construct the project’s first phase, which is expected to take a little more than a year, said Hawaii County Department of Public Works Director Warren Lee.

“We are here because a lot of good people here worked very hard,” said Mayor Billy Kenoi about the various officials, lineal descendants and residents who participated in the planning process. “Without them, this administration would not have been able to move this project forward.”

The project is being split in two phases: the mauka portion that requires the new construction and was estimated to cost about $14 million, but in actuality came in at nearly half that amount; and a lower portion where Laaloa connects with Alii Drive, which has been estimated to cost about $5 million. The Hawaii County Council in 2011 authorized a $20 million bond for both phases.

The upper portion project, in addition to the roadway featuring sidewalks and bike lanes, will include deceleration and acceleration lanes, as well as left-turn lane pockets on Kuakini Highway, said Lee. Improvements are also planned for the lower portion of the existing Laalaoa Avenue, which remains in the design and engineering phase, he said.

Both phases will be completed before the road is scheduled to open for public use in mid to late 2014. Hawaii Electric Light Co. crews have already started work on Kuakini Highway, moving poles prior to the county getting its project under way, said Lee.

“It’s nice to break ground, but it’s much more satisfying untying the maile lei at the end of the project,” said Kenoi.

Once built, the connection will be the first in a 3.5-mile stretch of Alii Drive between Royal Poinciana Drive and Kamehameha III Road. It will provide another means for egress during an evacuation or other emergency.

“The mauka-makai connector roads, especially for the Kailua-Kona community, are so important for all of us. Public safety is one of the biggest issues we deal with in Kona,” said District 7 County Council member Dru Kanuha. “Hopefully, once this is done, we can move down to Lako Street and Nani Kailua” Drive. “The safety of the residents is the top, No. 1 priority, and the (Kenoi) administration knows that.”

The county has been talking about extending Laaloa Avenue for decades.

However, formal work began in August 2004 with public meetings for the release of a draft environmental assessment. A context sensitive solutions process to address issues and find a way to make the mauka-makai connector road a reality commenced in August 2006 and wrapped up in 2008. A final EA was released that same year.

The county completed the final condemnation procedure last year, securing the land for the road’s new route. The 3rd Circuit Court set several of the purchase prices, which totalled about $496,000.

The county experienced an additional delay last fall, after the Department of Public Works failed to post a public notice about an October Leeward Planning Commission hearing on the department’s special management area use permit request. The planning commission granted the permit at its November meeting.