A small but significant bridge in Hilo will receive $1.5 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to kick-start a modernization and disaster mitigation project.
The funds, through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Program, will be used for the Waianuenue Avenue Bridge, Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii’s senior U.S. senator, announced Monday. The bridge is located on Waianuenue Avenue, shortly after mauka traffic turns right at the intersection of Kaumana Drive.
Schatz said the funds — which are to protect the bridge from flooding and bolster it against earthquakes — will make the bridge “safer for local families to use and get where they need to go.”
“We’re going to be getting on this one right away,” Ikaika Rodenhurst, county Public Works director, said Tuesday. “The estimated budget for this project is $16 million, but this money will finance phase one, where we’ll be procuring a design consultant and getting the permitting and design work done.”
Rodenhurst said the project, when completed, will strengthen “an aging bridge (in) a flooding area.”
“It’s a precautionary measure. There’s no immediate hazard at this time,” he noted. “But we don’t want to wait until there’s a hazard. We’ve already had situations like this … like Kolekole (Bridge), and we don’t want to see it happen again.”
The Kolekole Bridge, near the 14-mile marker on Highway 19 north of Hilo, was found earlier this year to be dangerously corroded and deemed unsafe for more than 4 tons of load capacity — meaning many county emergency vehicles, including ambulances and fire engines, weren’t allowed to cross. Emergency repair work is underway, and the load limit was upgraded to 12 tons after an inspection of repairs already made.
Kolekole Bridge is expected to have a 40-ton load rating capacity when the project is completed, which is expected by the end of the year.
The significance of the much smaller Waianuenue Avenue bridge is “that’s the access to the Hilo Medical Center,” said Talmadge Magno, county Civil Defense director.
Magno added he’s grateful for the influx of FEMA funding on Hawaii Island, which has seen multiple disasters over the past several years — including Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014, and the twin catastrophes in 2018 of Kilauea volcano’s lower East Rift Zone eruption and flooding brought by historic rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Lane.
“There’s been millions of other dollars put forward towards the recovery of Puna and so forth. This is an opportunity to do other mitigation and … that money is being spent on island,” Magno said. “It could’ve been used anywhere in the state. But, fortunately, we’ve been able to keep it on island.”
County Councilman Aaron Chung, whose Hilo district includes the Waianuenue Avenue Bridge, said the federal funding is “needed and much appreciated.”
“We’re still dealing with the aftereffects of Hurricane Lane. This is one of several places along that corridor that needs to be addressed to mitigate any future flooding issues,” Chung said.
Rodenhurst called the Waianuenue Avenue Bridge “an important lifeline for our community.”
“We want to make sure this bridge is sound and we reinforce our access to emergency services, like the hospital,” he said.
Schatz, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing, said Hawaii also is set to receive “at least $2.8 billion from the new bipartisan infrastructure law to strengthen roads and bridges across the state.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald