Traffic issues expected over course of year-long Alii culvert work

  • Traffic backs up at the Alii Drive bridge. (Chelsea Jensen / West Hawaii Today)

  • Traffic backs up at the Alii Drive bridge. (Chelsea Jensen / West Hawaii Today)
  • Traffic backs up at the Alii Drive bridge. (Chelsea Jensen / West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — The price to replace a deteriorating culvert on Alii Drive came in under budget this week.

Hilo-based Isemoto Contracting Co. Ltd. submitted the lowest bid for the project at $8.97 million — about $3 million less than the county estimated the project would cost. The Federal Highways Administration is picking up 80 percent of the cost, or about $7.2 million, while the county will pay the remainder.


Hawaii County officials this week opened bids for the project that’ll change out and expand the over 81-year-old culvert, also referred to as a bridge, located about 1.5 miles south of the center of Kailua Village. In all, six contractors submitted proposals; the highest bid offered was $13.36 million.

Field work in the area of the Waiaha Drainageway is expected to get underway in May, Hawaii County Department of Public Works spokesman Barett Otani said. That’s contingent on the state Department of Transportation concurring with the contract, allowing the county to officially award it.

Actual construction, which will be completed in phases to minimize impacts on traffic and pedestrians, will take about a year. The contractor has 724 calendar days from the issuance of a notice to proceed to execute the contract.

Otani said a public meeting will be held prior to the start of work in May.

Work is to take place Monday through Friday, excluding state holidays. Two lanes of traffic shall be provided during peak travel hours. But, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. the contractor may impose a single-lane closure.

Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians should anticipate traffic to be more congested during the project.

“It’s going to be disastrous,” said motorist Jim Williams as he rolled north along Alii Drive toward the culvert Friday morning.

Williams was one of the scores of cars to pass through the area Friday between 7:15 and 9 a.m. The area is known for congestion and northbound traffic can back up nearly a mile at times from the Lunapule Road stop sign, north of the culvert, to the Alii Lani area. It’s also highly used by walkers, joggers and bikers.

The worst of the traffic was before 8:15 a.m., and by 8:30, the time the county says the contractor can limit the roadway there to one lane, traffic had let up quite nicely.

From 7:45-7:50 a.m., West Hawaii Today counted 61 vehicles crawling north on the roadway over the culvert. Prior to the start and end of the count, traffic was backed up south beyond sight at Kona Shores. Dozens of pedestrians and bikes were also in the mix.

But, an hour later, from 8:45-8:50 a.m., traffic flowed decently with cars cruising over the culvert. During that five-minute period, 50 cars passed with no backups. Pedestrians and cyclists continued to use the bridge, but far fewer than the hour prior.

One of those pedestrians was Sharron Vargas, who moved here in March and walks Alii Drive nearly every day from the Alii Lani area to Kailua Village. Her biggest concern, right now, is safety as she walks over the culvert twice a day and frequently sees drivers speeding or simply not paying attention to the road.


“It’s especially bad in this area,” she said while standing on the makai side of Alii Drive, north of the culvert. “I always wait and see if someone is coming but I like this walk.”

She’s hopeful that the work will improve the area and make it safer for all users.

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