A County Council member is fed up with road construction delays on Kalanianaole Avenue in Hilo.
Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy wrote a letter to the news media on behalf of Keaukaha residents urging that the county administration finally complete a “wearisome” and “nightmare” construction on Kalanianaole Avenue that has been ongoing for more than three years.
“It’s shameful that OUR oldest homestead community, must traverse this horrid road, a road named after Kalanianaole himself,” Lee Loy said in her letter.
The letter urges Mayor Mitch Roth and Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst to fix the road for the sake of the area’s residents.
“The people of Keaukaha have been incredibly patient and tolerant, and it hasn’t gotten them anything,” Lee Loy told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday. “They’re over it.”
The construction on Kalanianaole began in March 2018, and entails a widening of the road from Kanoelehua Avenue to Kuhio Street, allowing for an additional sidewalk on one side, a paved shoulder on the other side, bicycle lanes, a shared turn lane, and a 12-inch diameter water line.
Since then, the project — which covers about a mile of roadway — has been plagued with delays.
Lee Loy said it was originally slated to be completed by the end of 2018, and yet three years later work remains incomplete. According to the Department of Public Works, the latest projected completion date is now February 2022.
Lee Loy said that, including its funding and planning phases, the project has spanned five years and three county administrations.
“Five years!” Lee Loy said. “We can get pregnant, have babies, and send them to kindergarten in five years!”
At a County Council committee meeting in January, DPW engineer Keone Thompson said the project was on track to be completed by the end of June 2021. However, less than a week away from the end of the month, the road remains partially closed for construction.
Lee Loy added the situation will once again be exacerbated this summer by the heavy traffic to and from the Keaukaha beach parks.
At that January meeting, Thompson said the county would have to reopen a $10 million bid for contracts using a portion of the project’s $18.5 million budget. However, DPW representatives, responding to a request for comment from Rodenhurst, said via email Tuesday that the bid was never reopened, the department is in negotiations with Goodfellow Bros., and the budget remains the same.
Thompson said in January that the latest delays to the project were to accommodate a change to the base of the road — using concrete instead of asphalt — so as to be less likely to damage a Hawaiian Electric fuel line under the roadway.
Regardless of the reasons for the delays, Lee Loy said Keaukaha residents have had to put up with a lot over the three years of construction.
“We’re all tolerant of roadwork, but our larger concern is the patch jobs at the end of the day,” Lee Loy said. “At least on Kilauea Avenue, when they patch the road in the evenings, it feels stable. Kalanianaole does not feel stable at all.”
Pat Kahawaiolaa, president of the Keaukaha Community Association, said multiple residents have filed claims against the county for damage to their vehicles caused by driving over the rough road, but those claims have been dismissed.
“I’m just wondering, when are they going to go back to work?” Kahawaiolaa said. “They really haven’t done work since the holidays. They’ve showed up sporadically, but it’s been nothing.”
According to the DPW email, Goodfellow Bros. has been directed to resume work.
With Kalanianaole being the main artery connecting Keaukaha with the rest of Hilo, Kahawaiolaa said the traffic jams caused by the ongoing project have dangerous implications.
“That’s something that sticks in the mind of the community here: What happens if there’s a tsunami?” Kahawaiolaa said.
But with no end in sight for the project, Lee Loy and Kahawaiolaa said Keaukaha deserves more than just a road when it’s all over. Lee Loy said there might be some remedies within the contract that would allow the county to recoup some costs.
However, Lee Loy said, the pressure is largely on the county administration to finally get results.
DPW “intends to charge Liquidated Damages for failure to complete work on time,” according to the DPW email.
“All I know is, somebody’s gonna owe us big when it’s all done,” Kahawaiolaa said.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.