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$3M allocated for Daniel K. Inouye Highway extension

KAILUA-KONA, Hawai‘i — The long-sought Daniel K. Inouye Highway extension in West Hawai‘i, which was deemed “no longer feasible” in 2022, has been resurrected with funding allocated in the state 2024-25 capital improvement budget.

The Department of Transportation’s submitted budget includes $3 million for an Environmental Impact Statement to extend the highway from its terminus at Highway 190 near the South Kohala-North Kona boundary to Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway, with $2.4 million funded by the Federal Government.

The project, which has been in the works since the 1999 proposal to reconstruct Saddle Road, has hit many roadblocks along the way.

Environmental studies, which are required for the project, were terminated in 2022 by DOT and the Federal Highways Administration.

“The primary reason for this determination is the financial impact of the estimated right-of-way and construction costs of the project. Therefore, the preparation of the EIS is being terminated,” the Sept. 27, 2020, Federal Register reads.

A draft EIS was completed in 2017, and efforts began to secure funding for the project until the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on state coffers in 2020. In early 2021, however, the state said a record of decision on the draft EIS was expected by year’s end. That determination would have allowed the project to move forward into land acquisition.

Months later, however, the department shelved the project, suspending all expenditures “for the time being.”

The state continued working on mitigations for anticipated impacts to historic and archaeological sites, but had run into issues with impacted properties on Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway.

“Not moving this project forward at this time will allow us to finalize the mitigations for Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway sooner, and will make the Section 106 (of the National Historic Preservation Act) process more efficient when the DKI West extension is restarted,” said DOT Director Ed Sniffen in 2022.

Funding for an EIS doesn’t mean the road will be built anytime soon.

“To get this in order, we have to finish the EIS. The next step is funding,” said State Sen. Tim Richards, who represents the proposed extension district and anticipates the EIS to take at least two years to complete.

Richards said the extension is estimated to cost $120 million with money hopefully coming from federal funding.

“We have been working with the military and specifically Department of Defense on this. The reason DKI was built was for moving from access points to Pohakuloa. The concept is since this is important and the military right now uses Waikoloa Road, it makes sense this all comes through federal funding,” he said.

Richards said the military leadership in the state is on board with the project.

“So we will be seeking at least half from the federal government and then cover the other half through state funds that will probably come through federal programs,” he said.

Although there has not been a final determination of what route the extension would take, Richards said he is pushing for the alignment to run along side Waikoloa Road, terminating on Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway at the south entrance to Waikoloa Beach Drive with a connector road running between the two roads makai of Waikoloa Village.

“That will increase the fire evacuation routes and that is one of the selling points on this,” he said.

Richards said this time, he believes completion of the road has a good chance of coming to fruition for several reasons.

“We are looking a funding a little bit differently. With the wildfire, there is a concern for evacuation routes. The military is very supportive now, where previously they were middle of the road,” he said.

If all goes to plan, Richards expects the extension to be built in eight to 10 years.

Saddle Road, most of which was renamed Daniel K. Inouye Highway post-modernization and western realignment in 2013, was originally built in 1942 as a one-lane road to connect military training facilities. The 52-mile road provides the quickest route for commuters between East and West Hawai‘i.

Extending Daniel K. Inouye Highway all the way to Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway would shave additional time and miles off the commute. That’s in addition to removing vehicles and large trucks from Waikoloa Road.

Waikoloa Road is heavily traveled by cross-island commuters, particularly those heading to the South Kohala resort area via Saddle Road. In addition, Waikoloa Road is the main route for truckers heading cross island back from West Hawai‘i, unless they are coming from Waimea or head mauka out of Kona via Mamalahoa directly to Saddle Road.

Further, with the county trucking the trash now, there are even more large vehicles coming down that roadway. Until Saddle Road is extended to Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway from its current terminus at Mamalahoa Highway, Waikoloa Road will remain a heavily traveled route.

“The importance of the DKI extension cannot be overstated and we are now in a position that we have the support of the Dept. of Defense and the state Department of Transportation. Completing this extension is critical for fully connecting East and West Hawaii through a safe, efficient highway system,” said Richards.

“This vital infrastructure not only promotes economic growth but also enhances traffic safety and improves wildfire evacuation capabilities. Additionally, the completion of the DKI extension will bolster the military’s access to Pohakuloa, thereby enhancing their capacity to respond to emergencies and contributing to the overall safety of the island. This project stands as a cornerstone in our commitment to fostering a resilient and connected Hawai‘i.”
Source: The Garden Island

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