State proposes $35M highway realignment plan to ease Laniakea gridlock

Updated: Jan. 29, 2020 at 6:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After years of gridlock, state transportation officials say they finally have the money to fix the North Shore traffic problem caused by visitors trying to catch a glimpse of turtles.

After a boy was injured while crossing Kamehameha Highway last August, officials said they weren’t pursuing a major realignment at Laniakea Beach.

The state instead focused on a cheaper plan to shift the roadway to create parking on the makai side.

“Looking at the large dollar value of that realignment and the limited resources that we had, it just wasn’t a priority at the time. What changed since then is the legislature helped us,” said Ed Sniffen, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Transportation’s Highways Division.

Lawmakers approved an additional $2 on the surcharge for rental cars.

The DOT plans to use some of the money at Laniakea to ease traffic congestion, protect beachgoers, and deal with shoreline erosion.

The major realignment, which involves moving a roughly one-mile stretch about 1,000 feet inland, would cost $35 to $40 million, according to a revised estimate.

The price tag for shifting a roughly half-mile stretch 20 to 40 feet mauka would be $6 to $8 million.

"It's difficult every day for those of us that have to drive through there. It's been a long, painful process so we are encouraged that the DOT has made a positive statement that they wish to go forward with this," said State Sen. Gil Riviere, who represents North Shore communities.

“But again, actions will speak louder than words.”

Riviere prefers the full realignment instead of just shifting the roadway.

“It would only move the road 20 feet or 30 feet inland so I don’t see the net benefit of that in any regard,” he said. “I don’t believe that the little wiggle road is a viable alternative. I think the full realignment is the appropriate outcome.”

DOT officials, however, said they won't go ahead with the major realignment unless a court allows them to install guardrails on the current highway to block people from parking and to keep them safe during the lengthy construction process.

The state was previously forced to remove concrete barriers in 2015.

"If we cannot put that guardrail in, then I have to take care of that safety issue in some way shape or form," said Sniffen. "The easiest way for me to do it is to shift the roadway."

Both projects would be complicated, involving multiple landowners and potential archaeological sites.

According to DOT estimates, shifting the roadway could be done by the end of 2022 and the major realignment could be finished as early as 2025.

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