Highway bills pass senate committee: $30 million proposed to widen Queen Kaahumanu, Kuakini Highways

  • Traffic backs up heading south on Kuakini Highway, just beyond the Lako Street intersection. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kuakini Highway is seen at its intersection with Hualalai Road where southbound traffic is reduced from two lanes to one. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

A proposal to widen two stretches of highway in West Hawaii has moved forward Thursday in the state Legislature.

Should it be enacted this session, Senate Bill 1011 would allow for the improvement of both Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Kuakini Highway between Henry Street and Kamehameha III Road.

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Introduced by Sen. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u), the bill would appropriate $30 million during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscal years to widen the 5.6-mile stretch of Queen Kaahumanu Highway and 2.6-mile stretch of Kuakini Highway. The measure was passed by the Senate Committee on Transportation in a Thursday afternoon hearing, and will now move onto consideration by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

Nearly all the public testimony was in support of the bill, with only one testifier submitting comments neither in favor nor in opposition. Reasons for support ranged from improving congestion, improving vulnerability to flooding and improving access for emergency services.

Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas was one of the testifiers voicing support, attesting to the need for improvements to both locations.

“On our rural island, these are two of the few areas we have morning and Pau Hana traffic,” she said in a statement, noting that the 5.6-mile drive on Queen Kaahumanu Highway can take up to an hour to pass through while it’s congested. “Our community desperately needs to widen and expand Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Kuakini Highway as these are the evacuation routes for the area with the most residents and tourists per capita.”

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The state Department of Transportation also lent support for the bill, estimating that the funding would allow the department to complete proposed improvements.

“If the Legislature appropriates $30 million, the DOT estimates that it can add an additional lane and contraflow within the limits,” said the department’s director Jade T. Butay in a statement.

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