Puna roundabouts could face delays due to pandemic

  • Drivers navigate through a new roundabout on Oct. 8 at Ainaloa Boulevard and Keaau-Pahoa Road in Pahoa. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

Planned improvements at two busy intersections along Highway 130 in Puna might be delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

State legislators had allocated $30 million in capital improvement funding earlier this year to widen Keaau-Pahoa Road, or Highway 130, from two lanes to four lanes.


The state Department of Transportation, however, had said in May the CIP appropriation would instead be used for lighting improvements and the construction of roundabouts on Highway 130 at Makuu Drive and Orchidland Drive.

DOT spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said Friday that intersection improvements are still planned for those two intersections.

The department is currently working on land acquisition and design of these improvements, which would include the construction of roundabouts, she said. The estimated cost of construction is $15 million.

“The construction for this project was to start in summer 2021 and to be funded by the rental car surcharge, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction phase of this project will be pending due to the lack of rental surcharge collections,” Kunishige said.

In 2018, plans to widen Highway 130 fell through due to a lack of funding.

Don Smith, who was the DOT’s Hawaii Island district engineer at the time, proposed instead the installation of three new roundabouts at Orchidland Drive, Makuu Drive and Ainaloa Boulevard, the Tribune-Herald previously reported.

The DOT announced earlier this month that paving work on the new roundabout at Ainaloa Boulevard was completed.

In January, the DOT awarded a contract to general contractor Jas W. Glover to make improvements to the intersection of Keaau-Pahoa Road and Ainaloa Boulevard, which primarily consist of a compact roundabout to manage the intersection of the two roads, as well as related signage and traffic-management infrastructure.

Kunishige told the Tribune-Herald in May roundabouts reduce traffic fatalities and injuries and the overall occurrence of crashes by eliminating crossing conflicts and moving vehicles through the intersection at a slower but steady speed.


Since the roundabout at the Pahoa bypass intersection opened in 2016, the number of accidents — at what was once the highest crash-rated intersection in Hawaii — has declined by 95%, she said at that time.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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