Saddle Road speed limit bill advances despite opposition

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A bill to raise the speed limit on Saddle Road cruised past the state Senate Committee on Trans-portation and Energy on Thursday.

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A bill to raise the speed limit on Saddle Road cruised past the state Senate Committee on Trans-portation and Energy on Thursday.

Senate Bill 2375, introduced by state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, was amended to increase the 55 mph limit on Saddle — formally known as the Daniel K. Inouye Highway — to 60 mph, instead of 65 mph as originally written.

The bill would retain existing speed limits near Pohakuloa Training Area and the Mauna Kea State Recreation Area, where the posted limit is 45 mph. Inouye also recommended the increase start at mile marker 19.

Inouye said she drafted the proposal after discussions with Hawaii Island residents who’ve been ticketed for unknowingly speeding on the Saddle. On Thursday, she said feedback earlier in the day from community members had been mostly supportive.

“We did receive just a couple in opposition, but other than that … we’ve had lots of phone calls as well as emails (in support),” said Inouye, a Democrat who represents Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa and Kona. “It’d be a welcome change, but also it’s to recognize that there was a purpose for opening up a new highway, for those going to work and travel from East to West Hawaii. But we still need to educate our drivers, they have to pay attention.”

The Hawaii Police Department submitted testimony strongly opposing the bill for safety concerns.

The road is “often shrouded in heavy fog, crossed by wild animals and having very steep grades in certain areas,” according to the testimony from Police Chief Harry Kubojiri.

Kubojiri also said officers encounter drivers speeding up to 30 mph over the posted limit already, and raising speeds further would “encourage some of those motorists to continue to drive 25 to 30 mph over the posted speed limit, which would mean speeds close to 100 mph.”

The Department of Transportation also submitted comments with concerns.

In the comments, the DOT said the highway was constructed for a “design speed of 50-60 miles per hour” — Inouye had previously said the road was built to withstand 65 mph speeds.

DOT comments said safety features such as “guardrail end treatments, roadway curves, (and) stopping sight distances … were designed to meet this design speed.”

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Inouye said Thursday the DOT is now on board with the amended 60 mph proposal, and would take the lead in seeing speed changes made. The measure will now go directly to the full Senate.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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