Saddle Road Waikoloa extension still in works 2 years later

  • An officer directs traffic at the Daniel K. Inouye Highway junction on Mamalahoa Highway in August. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — More than two years after the state released a draft study to extend Daniel K. Inouye Highway, a final environmental impact statement on the project has yet to come out.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Transportation said its priorities continue to be safety and system preservation rather than capacity projects like the extension. But it added it’s working on the documentation for the project in case more funding becomes available. The agency has also been “actively seeking additional funding,” including via two federal grant programs.

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“When we receive word on the status of these grant applications, as well as other funding sources we are pursuing, we will have a better idea on possible scheduling for the (Daniel K. Inouye) Highway extension and other Hawaii Island capacity projects,” the agency said in a statement.

Mayor Harry Kim said he wants to see funding of the project be a priority for the state.

“To anyone in regards to have anything to do with the continuation or priority of funding, please know the completion of this highway — not only for the people of Hawaii, but for our visitors — this is a tremendous asset to the island both socially, economically, in safety and any other way you want to measure,” he said on Thursday.

The draft environmental impact statement for the extension project, officially released in April 2017, considers three potential routes for extending Daniel K. Inouye Highway from where it currently meets Mamalahoa Highway to Queen Kaahumanu Highway. All three routes would draw the extension out to the south intersection of Waikoloa Beach Drive and Queen Kaahumanu Highway but differ in how exactly they get from point A to point B.

One option would have the road approximately follow the boundary between the North Kona and South Kohala districts.

The other two plans would run the road farther north and connect to Waikoloa Road close to mile marker 3, with the third option also using two miles of Waikoloa Road west of that mile marker.

The hope is that the project can help absorb the growing amount of traffic on Hawaii Island’s roadways. Two years ago, more than 4,200 cars were using Saddle Road daily, and that rate could get up to between 5,000 and 7,000 per day in the next decade and as many as 20,000 per day by 2035.

The draft EIS said the extension will save drivers about 6.6 minutes for one cross-island trip. While maybe not much to the individual driver, the savings in fuel and emissions across 5,000-20,000 vehicles 365 days a year has the potential to be significant.

Kim said he’s been hearing from residents who are eager to see the project move forward.

“I constantly hear people from the east and west side, first of all on the completed portion, how great the highway is,” he said. “And looking forward to all the way to Queen Kaahumanu Highway.”

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And in addition to helping get traffic across the island, Kim said the extension would also help accommodate growth in Waikoloa Village, both as an alternative route for residents there to travel east and west as well as offer a “very long sought-after escape route.”

Even if the final design of the extension itself doesn’t incorporate any part of Waikoloa Road, he said, it could be feasible to build some kind of connector road in the future.

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