State plans final Saddle Road extension

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Planning for the last extension of Saddle Road is moving ahead, though it remains unclear when construction funds will be available.

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Planning for the last extension of Saddle Road is moving ahead, though it remains unclear when construction funds will be available.

The state Department of Transportation recently completed a draft environmental impact statement for connecting the cross-island road with Queen Kaahumanu Highway near Waikoloa.

The document, published online Thursday, estimates construction would cost between $63 million and $74 million, depending on the route, with 80 percent of the funds coming from the federal government.

If completed, motorists will have a straight shot across the island from Hilo to the Waikoloa resorts. That also would shave about 6.6 minutes off drive times, according to the report.

DOT spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said the agency is requesting the state Legislature authorize $17.8 million in revenue bonds to cover the state’s share of the project. That’s based on a higher cost estimate of $89 million.

The bonds could supplement the state’s highways fund to allow the work to begin sooner than later. Currently, the extension project doesn’t make the cut for the department’s 20-year capacity improvement program based on revenue projections.

Kunishige said the department is not making any commitments about the timing of capacity improvement projects.

“We’re just positioning in case, and we’re prioritizing safety and preservation projects,” she said.

Construction could take two years once started, according to the planning document.

The proposed EIS looks at three possible routes. Two merge with Waikoloa Road makai of Waikoloa Village, while another bypasses that road completely. All three connect with Waikoloa Beach Drive.

Work is ongoing with widening and realigning the road, known officially as the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, mauka of Hilo. That $51 million project between mile markers 6 and 11 is expected to be complete in August.

Multiple phases of the highway improvement project have been completed, transforming the former one-lane road into a mostly four-lane highway.

The road began in 1942 as an access route for the U.S. Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area.

The last new leg opened in September 2013, taking the road on a more western and straight trek to Mamalahoa Highway.

That’s now where the road ends and where the next extension would begin.

As of 2013, $290 million had been spent rebuilding and realigning the road.

Eventually, state officials also plan to widen and realign Puainako Street in Hilo so that it directly connects with the Puainako extension and the rest of Saddle Road.

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To view the draft EIS, visit https://tinyurl.com/saddleextension.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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