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Stene: Irked over stalled highway projects

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By Aaron Stene | Special to Hawaii 24/7

I’m very disappointed by the lack of progress on two important (and stalled) Big Island transportation improvements: the second phase of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening and final east side Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Saddle Road) phase (SR 200(3)).

The second phase of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening was supposed to start in 2008 and be completed by 2010. But, it’s been held up for the last six years because of two bid protests and a last minute Section 106 consultation process with several Native Hawaiian organizations, which is still ongoing with no end in sight.

This highway widening project, which has been planned since the mid-1990s, will help reduce traffic congestion and improve roadway safety between Kailua Village and Kona International Airport.

The final east side Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Saddle Road) phase, on the other hand, is being held up by a glacial right of way acquisition process.

The state Department of Transportation has acquired the necessary land for this project from 12 out of 15 landowners over the last three years. The acquisition of the right of way from the remaining three landowners won’t be completed until September 2015, according to the Central Federal Lands Highway Division’s website.

Sen. Daniel Inouye envisioned a modern cross-island highway linking East and West Hawaii. That vision is almost a reality, with 40.27 out of 45.97 miles improved to federal highway standards.

The final phase between mile marker 5.3 and m.m. 11 is riddled with design deficiencies, which has resulted in innumerable traffic accidents and fatalities. In addition, the reconstruction/realignment of this final segment will further decrease the amount of time it takes to drive between Kailua-Kona and Hilo.

The recently completed west side phase between m.m. 41 and m.m. 51.27 shaved about 25 minutes off a trip to Hilo. I foresee an additional time savings after this final phase is completed.

These projects will also help the Big Island’s struggling construction industry, but they’re being held up by bureaucrats in the state and federal governments.

The individual who shoulders the most blame is Gov. Neil Abercrombie. He appointed the director and deputy directors, who oversee the state Department of Transportation.

These appointees have done little to push these projects along.

Improvements to our transportation infrastructure is critical to continued job creation, economic growth and roadway safety. However, the current state administration is dragging their feet and not expediting these critical infrastructure projects, which are literally shovel ready.

Aaron Stene

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