State set to begin 1st phase of $229M in airport improvements


Modernization efforts at the open-air, traditional Hawaii-feel Kona International Airport are on the horizon.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation’s Airports Division will begin the first phase of modernizing the Keahole Point airport’s terminal in December 2014 or early January 2015, Public Information Officer Caroline Sluyter said. Expected to cost between $60 million and $70 million, the project will take about two years to complete. The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday passed House Bill 200, the state budget bill, which includes $70 million for expansion of Kona International Airport. The House bill now moves on to the full Senate for a vote.

The project will connect the airport’s two current terminals into a single building that will feature a centralized check-in area, more room for concessionaires and a below-ground baggage handling system, according to a final environmental assessment released late Friday. It will also include an explosive detection system and an upgraded passenger communication system, which includes airport paging and flight, gate and baggage information displays.

“We’re keeping the same look and feel, but it will be a little bit nicer,” Sluyter said, noting Jetways are not in the present project, but may be considered in the future. “The … Hawaiian sense of place will remain.”

However, the terminal modernization work will require the relocation of the Onizuka Space Center mauka of its current position, she said. Construction of the new $6.8 million center is expected to begin in September and wrap up within a year.

The terminal modernization and relocation of the space center are just two of 12 projects included in the assessment, which garnered a finding of no significant impact. The department plans to spend more than a quarter-billion dollars over the next decade on the projects.

Besides terminal modernization and relocating the center, the department wants to expand general aviation facilities; add a new helicopter facility; extend and widen the planned U.S. Air Force Kona Auxiliary Training Runway for emergency and overflow use; build hydrogen fuel storage and a fueling station; and construct an aviation rescue and firefighting training facility, and renovate an existing fire station into a commuter terminal.

The plans also call for constructing a new road that will enhance access to general aviation facilities, installing a seawater air conditioning system from neighboring state agency Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, and constructing a temporary Department of Agriculture inspection station, according to the assessment. Sluyter said the seawater system will likely reduce some of the airport’s costs.

Altogether, the projects are anticipated to cost about $229 million and funding will be derived from federal and private sources, state bonds and the Airport Revenue Fund, which comprises user, landing and other airport fees, according to the assessment. The project’s draft environmental assessment, released in August, said the proposed 12 improvements would cost $611 million, however.

Earl Matsukawa with planner Wilson Okamoto Corp. said the first figure was provided by the department and apparently included estimates for some projects not to be included in the current phase of work. He deferred further comment to the DOT.

Sluyter said the price tag change is the result of some project scaling back and more concrete price estimates. She said a breakdown of the cost project-by-project was not available because only some are nearing bidding.

The state Airports Division’s proposed improvements at Kona International Airport can be found in the master plan completed for the West Hawaii airport in October 2010. The plan provides guidelines for the airport’s development, maintenance and operations during the next 20 years

Present airfield facilities at Kona include a single 11,000-foot-by-150-foot asphalt runway with shoulders and blast pads, and eight taxiways, according to the assessment. In addition, the airport houses a passenger terminal with a looped roadway; aircraft parking; a general aviation area with two hangars and 43 tie-downs; a firefighting station and training area, and various fuel and water storage areas, maintenance buildings and offices.