Napoopoo Road intersection work causing backups, lost business, owners say

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CAPTAIN COOK — Customers used to fill the parking lot near Cook’s Bounty Fruit Stand, where locals and tourists alike picked from the breadfruit, starfruit and other local produce in front of the Kona Theater.

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CAPTAIN COOK — Customers used to fill the parking lot near Cook’s Bounty Fruit Stand, where locals and tourists alike picked from the breadfruit, starfruit and other local produce in front of the Kona Theater.

“This whole parking lot would be filled,” said store representative Jason Sanchez, who was setting up the stand Thursday. “I’d have to direct people out.”

Now, said Sanchez, drivers pass the fruit stand by. Business, he said, has dropped by about 25 percent.

Sanchez says the drop in business is a result of heavy roadwork about a mile down the road at the intersection of Mamalahoa Highway and Napoopoo Road, where traffic often comes to a crawl when the road is reduced to just a single lane.

Friday morning, when West Hawaii Today was in the area, traffic was reduced to one lane between 8:45 and 9:30 a.m. At one point, northbound traffic was backed up more than a quarter of a mile. Sanchez said he’s seen it backed up to the fruit stand, which is about a mile from the construction scene.

“It’s like nobody’s coming this way when the traffic’s that long,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said about three quarters of the company’s business was coming from tourists, who would often stop by the stand on their way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

But now that drivers have to make their way through the construction, he said, they pass right by Cook’s Bounty and other small businesses in the area.

“The tourists always seem to be in a rush trying to get to the volcano and all this stuff so they just blow right past everybody,” he said.

Road work

The lane closures are related to the construction work on the final phase of the Mamalahoa Highway bypass, which broke ground in July 2014, though work at the intersection didn’t begin until December that year.

The plan calls for a 2.2-mile extension of the bypass from Halekii Street to the intersection of Napoopoo Road as well as construction of a new intersection at Napoopoo Road.

The $27.9 million project is intended to ease congestion on the highway but it’s causing headaches in the meantime.

“It’s crazy,” said John Bayaoa, who works at Pearl’s Garden Center near the construction.

Construction was initially scheduled to finish in January 2016, but delays have pushed that back.

“Supposed to be pau in May, now supposed to be pau in September,” Bayaoa said. “We’ll see about that.”

The expected completion date is now in November, said Barett Otani, information and education specialist for the Department of Public Works.

Otani said the delays are attributed to archaeological issues and the need to redesign and construct the retaining wall at the Napoopoo intersection. The wall, according to previous reports, needed to go down 8 feet deeper than anticipated to get to solid earth.

Weather and other constraints have also caused some delays, Otani said.

Work scheduled for July 23 and 24, when Hawaiian Telcom was scheduled to relocate cable for the project, was cancelled as a result of Tropical Storm Darby.

However, he said, once work on both the road extension and intersection are complete, the road “will be open and operational to the public.”

But local business owner Beverly Napolitan has her doubts.

“It’s never gonna happen,” she said. “This could go on forever.”

Napolitan, who manages Antiques and Orchids, said Thursday she has already had to make $700 worth of repairs to her roof she says are caused by construction equipment shaking the 110-year-old building.

“It’s shaking like a five-point earthquake,” she said.

Furthermore, she said, she’s been losing money because customers can’t stop at her store, which is located just outside the construction area.

“They can’t stop by,” she said. “The entire tourist season was negative income.”

Napolitan said she’s tried to bring her concerns to both the county and Isemoto Contracting Co., who is doing the work on the project. But, she said, she keeps getting told to take her concerns elsewhere.

At the beginning of construction, Napolitan said, she received a flyer from Isemoto inviting people in the area to call the project manager with any concerns. However, she said, her calls are never taken.

“They just send me back and forth,” she said of Isemoto and the county. “They don’t call you back. They don’t want to talk about it.”

Napolitan said she believes she should be compensated for the repairs she’s had to make and lost revenue caused by the roadwork.

Otani didn’t respond to follow up questions about who residents can contact with concerns about the roadwork or whether they could seek compensation for damages and lost revenue. Isemoto Contracting Co. referred questions about the project to the county.

Sanchez too said the issue is costing him money.

Customers are coming in later, he said, usually not until after noon.

Residents expect the traffic will only increase once school starts.

“Watch it come school time. It’ll be more worse,” Bayaoa said. “Be crazy.”

Longer commute times

Corina Malagon, who drives through the roadwork everyday, said she expects she’ll have to wake up an hour and a half earlier to get to work on time once school begins.

Still others try to remain optimistic.

“It’s kinda bad,” said Sanford Nagitori, who also drives through the roadwork daily. “Hopefully it’s all for the better.”

Otani said the community’s patience is appreciated, while also extending an apology for any inconveniences caused by the construction.

“The county is working with the contractor and utility companies to complete the project in a timely manner, with the focus on public safety,” Otani wrote.

He added that the intersection is on the “major collector road” for northbound and southbound travel.

The new intersection and highway extension “will improve travel time and provide a safe entry (and) exit to Napoopoo Road.”

A Department of Public Works announcement said work is expected to continue at the intersection on the weekends of July 30-31 and Aug. 6-7, while Hawaiian Telcom relocates cables.

The company has scheduled weekend work “to mitigate traffic delays,” Otani said.

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Once that work is done, Oceanic Time Warner work will follow.

Otani added that additional lane closures will follow until the project is completed in November.

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