KAILUA-KONA — As local officials celebrated the dedication of the newly widened stretch of Queen Kaahumanu Highway, the sound of horns from passing cars punctuated the speeches and remarks, notes of thanks — or at least, relief — for the completion of a project years in the making.
Three years after breaking ground and more than 10 years since the state first awarded a bid for the project, the highway now spans four lanes of north- and southbound traffic for a little more than 5 miles between Kealakehe Parkway and Keahole Airport Road.
“Even though we blessed this three years ago, we prayed every day that this would be completed,” said kahu Daniel Akaka Jr., who provided the blessing Thursday and at the 2015 groundbreaking. “So this is a happy day for all of us, this community and for the Island of Hawaii.”
Thursday’s ceremony officially marked the $121 million project as “substantially complete,” with some work, such as landscaping and signage installation, still remaining.
Motorists driving through the area will likely notice the use of ’a’a in the median. Donald Smith, Hawaii District engineer with the state Department of Transportation Highways Division, said the use of ’a’a isn’t just for aesthetics, it’s also low-maintenance and discourages motorists from attempting to cut across the median.
And for those who have worked to push the widening project forward, Thursday’s dedication was cause for celebration.
“The area north of Kona, the area that this portion of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway services, is a great example of the best that Hawaii state and Hawaii Island has to offer,” said Gov. David Ige in remarks to the crowd. “Scenic views, a connection to the history of the people of the first nation of Hawaii, our second international air point-of-entry at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport and really an example of technical, environmental and cultural innovations coming together to make a difference for our community.”
Ige added that ensuring continued support of state infrastructure in the region “will continue to be one of my priorities.”
In addition to widening the highway from two to four lanes throughout the project area, Ed Brown, Hawaii vice president of operations for Goodfellow Bros. Inc., noted that the effort also resulted in six new signalized intersections, as well as 4.5 miles of new water lines. It also resulted in a new sewer system to move water from regional developments to the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant and an R-1 line to bring back treated water.
“This team, our work family, has taken on lots of obstacles and has endured tough hurdles,” said Brown. “Regardless of that, we always had the goal to build the best, safest, long-lasting and highest-quality road for the community.”
Brown said more than 210,000 man-hours went into the project, noting that all workers, including construction crews, come from Hawaii Island.
“What was created is a state-of-the-art travel way that is not only to meet the demands of today but is built for the future,” he said.
Local lawmakers, too, celebrated the milestone, including state Rep. Nicole Lowen, who told the crowd that the project was likely the No. 1 topic of phone calls to her office from constituents over the last few years.
“So it’s just really exciting that all the lanes are open,” she said. “Traffic is moving smoothly.”
It was also cause for celebration for state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who was Hawaii County’s mayor in 1991 when then-Gov. John D. Waihee III and then-DOT director Edward Y. Hirata came to her with the original plans to widen Queen Kaahumanu Highway.
“You would not believe how things have changed from the first plan that I saw,” she said, sharing that the original proposal included on-ramps and off-ramps.
The first phase of the widening project would eventually break ground in September 2005 during the Lingle Administration and be dedicated in spring 2009.
Now, as senator, Inouye chairs the Senate Committee on Transportation and Energy.
“It’s just to show you how long it takes to get a project of this magnitude,” said Inouye.