Lawmaker wants state, city to get speedier access to emergency bypass road

Lawmaker wants state, city to get speedier access to emergency bypass road
Published: Sep. 6, 2016 at 9:19 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 6, 2016 at 9:49 PM HST
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NANAKULI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state lawmaker wants to streamline the process of opening a military bypass road from Waianae to Wahiawa during emergencies that close Farrington Highway.

Kolekole Road connects Navy property in Lualualei to Schofield Barracks. The winding road that cuts through the Waianae mountains is only opened during what the military considers "extraordinary emergencies."

"It would almost have to be total desolation of Farrington Highway which would be impassable," city Emergency Management Director Mel Kaku said.

To open the emergency road, the city makes a request to the state, which is passed on to the Navy and the Army. The two agencies ultimately decide whether Kolekole should be used as an emergency bypass.

State Rep. Andria Tupola, whose district includes Maili, Nanakuli and Ko Olina, believes there needs to be a simpler system that gives police and first responders more input into the decision.

"If that road is open maybe it should be determinant upon the blockage of Farrington for a quantity of hours, as opposed to a type of incident," she said.

Since 2001, the emergency bypass has been opened to the public just four times. One incident that prompted the road's opening: When high winds leveled power poles along Farrington Highway in 2006.

Kaku said the city's first option is to evacuate Leeward Coast residents to areas on that side of the island and to use existing streets and roads to bypass blockages.

"I would almost have to believe that it (Kolekole pass) would be one of the last options because there are so many constraints and limitations on that particular type of use," Kaku said.

But Tupola thinks Kolekole shouldn't be thought of as a last resort.

"This is the only way," she said. "If there was state money set aside for a mauka highway, maybe in a few years we might have another option. But there is no such highway being proposed at this point in 2016."

Kolekole crosses Navy and Army property.

Hawaii Emergency Management Administrator Vern Miyagi said a section on the Navy side of the pass is in disrepair and would be risky to use as an evacuation route.

"If we have to transit that route during the night, guidelines have to be put in place so that we can make sure people get through safely," he said.

Meanwhile, Tupola is urging the Navy to maintain the road.

"In the event of an emergency that's not when we want to find out that there's a stretch of road that's very dangerous or maybe needed some rock mitigation," she said.

Miyagi said only emergency vehicles and shuttles that can climb steep grades would be allowed on the road during emergency use.

The military recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state and city outlining emergency vehicle access to Kolekole Road.

And within the next few months, the military plans to take Leeward Oahu residents on a tour of Kolekole pass.

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