KAILUA-KONA — More lanes, more of the same.
When it comes to road closures on the Ironman World Championship race day, it will be business as usual this year — which is to say Queen Kaahumanu Highway will be closed for the majority of the day despite additional lanes having been extended this year.
In an email to West Hawaii Today, the state Department of Transportation confirmed that both sides of Queen Kaahumanu Highway — from Keahole Airport Road to Palani Road — will be closed on Oct. 13. Partial opening of the highway will begin as the bike segment is completed along the corridor.
That’s been the practice for decades. But in years past, a crucial stretch of highway from Kealakehe Parkway to Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole was only two lanes wide.
It’s been four lanes since 2009 between Walmart and Kealakehe Parkway, and the road has been closed during the event.
Now, following a $121 million 5-mile expansion from the parkway to the airport, it’s four lanes wide with a vast median divider. Still, the road will be closed.
Diana Bertsch, vice president of world championship events for Ironman, declined to comment. Ironman’s public relations department didn’t return emails.
Ironman has cited safety concerns in the past for the more than 2,400 athletes who will be on the 140.6-mile course, which features a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run.
Last year, a professional triathlete was hit during the race near Waikoloa Road — despite the road being closed — and was taken to the hospital in serious condition.
Both the DOT and Ironman were continuing to evaluate the traffic control plan for the event to maximize the safety of participants and mobility throughout the area and were expected to finalize plans this week.
Three years after breaking ground and more than 10 years since the state first awarded a bid for the second phase of the project, phase 2 of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway project was completed in August. The new highway now spans four lanes of north- and southbound traffic for from about Malu Lani Gardens south of Walmart through Henry Street, Palani Road and Makala Boulevard to Keahole Airport.
The bike course takes cyclists north along the Queen Kaahumanu Highway, from Kailua Pier to the turnaround in Hawi. The final cut off for the bike is 5:30 p.m., with participants trickling into the finish line on Alii Drive as late as midnight following the marathon run.
Ironman posted a road closure graphic on Ironman.com showing the closures for the 2018 race.
Al Gustavson is a vocal opponent of closing the entire highway.
Gustavson is the president of Goose’s Edge Inc., which operates the 76 gas station on Queen Kaahumanu Highway just north of Kealakehe Parkway. He is also the owner and captain of the boat Topshape, which runs out of Honokohau Harbor, along with multiple businesses within the harbor.
“We are not saying we want the race to go away. We just want a compromise,” Gustavson said, who’s proposal is to keep the two mauka lanes open to traffic and using the makai lanes for the race. “Bottom line is we don’t understand why they are taking four lanes, where they have used two lanes in past years.”
Unlike the Kailua-Kona businesses around the Alii Drive area that see an increase in profits from the Ironman crowds, Gustavson says he’s missed out on major money due to the race limiting access to his businesses.
“As a businessman, I have a hard time with that — giving up my profits to a foreign owned company,” he said, referring to the China-based Dalian Wanda Group’s ownership of the World Triathlon Corporation, Ironman’s parent company. “Like I said, all we are asking for is a compromise.”
According to road closure graphic on Ironman.com
Akoni Pule Highway (270) between Kawaihae/Waimea Junction (19) and Hawi
• Road closed (8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.)
• Alternate Route to Hawi is Kohala Mountain Road (Hwy 250), which runs from Waimea to Hawi
Queen Kaahumanu Highway between Waimea Junction (270 &19) and NELHA
• Road closed (7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.)
• Alternate Route for traffic between the hotels, the airport and Kona will be via Waikoloa Village Road, Mamalahoa Highway 190, Kaiminani Drive (Palisades) and the Ane Keohokalole Highway, race traffic permitting.
Queen Kaahumanu Highway between NELHA and Henry Street
• Road closed (6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)
• Alternate Route for traffic between Palani Rd. and Hina Lani St. is the Ane Keohokalole Highway.
CLOSURES FOR KAILUA TOWN AND ALII DRIVE
Oct. 11, at 6 a.m. through Sunday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m.
• Kailua Pier to Likana Lane (Hulihee Palace) closed (Thursday 9 a.m. to Sunday 2 p.m.)
• Likana Lane (Hulihee Palace) to Hualalai Road closed (Saturday. 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.)
• Hualalai Road to Laaloa Ave. closed, with limited access for residents as safety permits (Sat 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
• Kailua Pier to Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel closed (Thursday 6 a.m. to Sunday 2 p.m.)
• Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel to Kuakini Highway closed (Saturday 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.)
• Kuakini Highway to Queen Kaahumanu Highway westbound lanes closed (Sat 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.)
• Kuakini Highway to Queen Kaahumanu Highway eastbound lanes CLOSED (Sat 6:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.)
• Palani Road to Makala Boulevard closed (Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
• Palani Road to Hualalai Road closed (Saturday 6:30 a.m. to noon)
• Palani Road to Hualalai Road, south lane closed (Sat 10 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.)
• Palani Road to just before Kahakai Estates subdivision closed with limited access for residents as safety permits, Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m
• Kuakini Highway to Queen Kaahumanu Highway closed (Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
• Alii Drive to Kuakini Highway closed (Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.)