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Saddle Road update

Ron Terry explains the three alternate routes for the planned Saddle Road extension. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

Saddle Road Extension Map (click on map for larger image)

Saddle Road Extension Map (click on map for larger image)

The newly aligned Saddle Road is expected to open in about 18 months, but the extension of the state highway to Queen Kaahumanu Highway likely won’t be ready for seven more years.

About 60 people gathered Thursday evening at Waikoloa Elementary School for an update on the project, which will bypass Waikoloa Village and connect Saddle Road to Queen Kaahumanu Highway at Waikoloa Beach Drive.

The project is described in the recently completed Environmental Impact Statement preparation notice, which is posted online in the state Office of Environmental Quality Control bulletin dated May 23.

Once the new section of Saddle Road – or State Highway 200 – is complete, the cross-island connector will reach Mamalahoa Highway about 3 miles south of Waikoloa Road, or about 7 miles south of its current junction.

Project consultant Ron Terry, of Hilo-based Geometrician Associates, said studies showed more than 50 percent of the west-bound traffic was heading toward Kona, so the southern alignment made the most sense and will slash about 20 minutes off the Hilo-Kona commute. In addition, it skirts land that recently was purchased by the U.S. military.

The Saddle Road project is months ahead of schedule and is anticipated to open to traffic in December 2013, Terry said. The current road also will remain open.

Once that section is complete, the state Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration will focus on the Saddle Road extension, which will connect the new junction with Queen Kaahumanu Highway at Waikoloa Beach Road, or about 1 miles south of the existing Waikoloa Road junction.

Extending Saddle Road to the lower highway is intended to improve traffic flow efficiency, improve safety and support the needs of commercial trucks and military traffic, Terry said.

The new road likely will include two 12-foot lanes, 8-foot shoulders, have a top speed of 55 mph and a maximum grade of 7 percent. The cost is estimated at $60-$70 million.

Terry said the current timeline means the draft Environmental Impact Statement will be complete in October, while the final EIS would be finished next February after a round of public hearings.

The design and right-of-way acquisition process then would begin in 2014. Much of the land along the three routes under discussion is privately owned.

Construction on the extension is expected between 2017 and 2019.

While the project is on the state DOT’s list of priorities, no state funds have yet been appropriated. Rep. Cindy Evans, who represents North Kona and South Kohala, said she expects her colleagues to fund the project, especially as U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye has long championed Saddle Road improvements and likely will secure federal funding.

The three routes still under consideration include two that will link up with the lower portion of the existing Waikoloa Road. A third option parallels the existing road.

Terry said the three alternates are roughly the same distance – 10 miles – and none has any major advantages or drawbacks. It’s simply which route the public prefers, he said.

Residents have voiced opinions supporting all three alternates for various reasons, Terry said, with no clear favorite.

About one dozen residents testified at Thursday evening’s meeting, with much of focus on ensuring the state highway included safe bike lanes along the shoulders.

Evans said the southern most option, which parallels Waikoloa Road, encroaches on Puu Waawaa Game Management Area. Hunters and recreational users already have a master plan for the area, she said, which may be impacted by the road.

She said she would prefer the new road incorporate portions of the existing Waikoloa Road for a couple of reasons. The road would be designated as a state highway, which means the state rather than the county would bare the cost of maintenance.

That option also falls in line with the long-term vision for the area and promote connectivity between the Waikoloa Village and North Kohala communities.

The EIS will study the social and environmental impacts of the project and develop mitigation measures to avoid, minimize or compensate for impacts.

The final EIS will identify the preferred route.

Comments on the Environmental Impact Statement preparation notice are due June 22.

Mail comments to:
Ron Terry
Geometrician Associates
PO Box 396
Hilo HI 96721

To read the Environmental Impact Statement preparation notice, visit: oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/Shared%20D…

Residents review the map of the planned Saddle Road extension. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

3 Responses to “Saddle Road update”

  1. waimeajim says:

    I just don’t understand how these civil engineers can design a road that creates line of sight problems at intersections. Why do they put the intersections on bends and curves on the highways? All this does is create a distraction for the drivers trying to make turns on and off the main road.
    This becomes a bigger problem when the highways are widened in the future, because of the intersection on the bend.
    Look at all the roads that have intersections on bends and the limited line of sight that drivers trying to enter the intersection.
    The Waiaka bridge intersection is a prime example: 1. s bend in highway 19 over a narrow bridge that drops after exiting and forks to Upper Kohala road.
    Highways that have intersections in them should have a line of sight of at least 500′ for a 55 MPH speed limit. These alignments just don’t do it.
    Highways are supposed to help people get from one place to another in the least amount of time. every time you put an intersection or tie-in in a road, you increase the possibility of slowing people down and wasting resources; namely fuel and time.
    I hope all the intersections are developed with 3rd and 4th lanes for turn offs and merging with a wide enough shoulder for slower traffic to pull over on the uphill climb.
    Since this highway will be built with Federal Funding, I hope all Fed specs are followed, and runaway truck ramps are installed on the downgrade.
    Build this road for the future Hawaii, not the Hawaii of 30 years ago.

  2. TS says:

    The saddle road was made crooked during WWII to make it easier to defend invading armies trying to cross it. Safety and efficiency were not the design goals.

    Things have changed since then.

    The road should create as safe, direct and efficient means of travel between Hilo and Kailua as practicable. Tradeoffs that can be considered would include which side of Hualalai to run it based on considerations such as grade, overall distance, curvature, and probability of lava related closures based on historical coverage rates. Consideration should also be made of how closely standards could be made in line with those of freeways so that any future freeway cost might be cut nearly in half.

    It is not difficult to see how a good road between the two cities would be highly-utilized, and if made safe, it would provide relief for other more hazardous routes.

  3. waimeajim says:

    I predict that the King’s and Queen’s shops in the area of the new Saddle Road improvements will become the largest Supermall in the State. Lots of land, good access to the beaches nearby, Resort Properties, and a new road from Hilo to transport the goods there cheaper (if the Harbor at Kawaehae is not upgraded).

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