Newly expanded highway will still shut all the way down for Ironman

  • An artist rendering, provided by Al Gustavson, shows what it would look like with bikes and cars sharing the four lanes of Queen Kaahumanu Highway on race day. (Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • The state Department of Transportation confirmed that both sides of Queen Kaahumanu Highway — from Keahole Airport to Palani roads — will be closed on Oct. 13 for the Ironman World Championship despite new lanes being added. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • The state Department of Transportation confirmed that both sides of Queen Kaahumanu Highway — from Keahole Airport to Palani roads — will be closed on Oct. 13 for the Ironman World Championship despite new lanes being added. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • The state Department of Transportation said that both sides of Queen Kaahumanu Highway — from Keahole Airport Road to Palani Road — will be closed on Oct. 13 for the Ironman World Championship despite new lanes being added. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

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 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.”

Expected closures

According to road closure graphic on

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.


Oct. 11, at 6 a.m. through Sunday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m.

Alii Drive

• 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.)

Palani Road

• 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.)

Kuakini Highway

• 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

Makala Boulevard

• Kuakini Highway to Queen Kaahumanu Highway closed (Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.)


Hualalai Road

• Alii Drive to Kuakini Highway closed (Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.)

  1. LOL in Kona September 26, 2018 6:49 am

    It is all about ME!
    So what if “other folk” left turn into the “so call” athletes
    ….and they die, it is no big deal!
    I “deserve” to have part of the road on every day I want it….

    and don’t forget, that “one day” is all important to business!
    The 10,000 people who are here for weeks?
    …..nope, they don’t spend nuthing!

    1. laakoc September 26, 2018 8:34 am

      Hence why we leave town the week of Iron Man when possible. Thankful school is out for fall break

    2. SillyHugs October 3, 2018 12:09 pm

      Yes LOL in Kona it appears it IS all about YOU!
      You argument makes no sense. WHO GOT HIT ON RACE DAY? You know the only day that we have to give up our day to day lives.

  2. KonaLife September 26, 2018 8:01 am

    Gustavson’s absolutely right on this: Ironman doesn’t need four lanes, with a large median between each set of two lanes on race day when they have done just fine with two lanes since it’s inception in Kona. Using two lanes is a fair, practical accommodation to local residents and local businesses.

    Shame on Ironman for not stepping up and saying, “you know, we can do this as we always have done it: two lanes are fine.”

    I am seriously considering “un-volunteering” this year for Ironman because of this. Perhaps others might want to send a message by doing the same?

    1. LOL in Kona September 26, 2018 12:37 pm

      All Big Island drivers are very careful!
      That’s why Jame Saikai died…errr… that guy got hit last year…
      errr, are YOU willing to buy the insurance to pay???

      1. KonaLife September 26, 2018 1:39 pm

        I do have insurance, as should you and everyone else if they are legal drivers in the State of Hawaii. I also give extra “aloha” and space to the thousands of Ironman bike riders, runners and their supporters driving rental cars the next three weeks. I will drive a little slower and more cautiously. I have no problem with that.

        I am happy they are here and believe Ironman is great for Kona.

        That said, they have done the Ironman on a two-lane road from Palani to the airport for decades. Now, we have a four-lane road with ʻAʻā (course lava) in the median, so there is no danger with cars going north on the highway from Palani to the airport.

        Many local residents and businesses are severely disrupted on Ironman day. Simply having Ironman continue as it has–two lanes from the harbor to the airport (or better yet Palani to the airport) is a fair and reasonable accommodation for the Kona community.

        1. LOL in Kona September 26, 2018 3:02 pm

          ….,”..if they are legal drivers..”
          Haaa, Haaa, Haaa!

          A “day” when poor, little you is “inconvenienced” is tooooo much!
          Better to let people get killed than “inconvenience” you!
          …”Many local residents and businesses are severely disrupted
          ………on Ironman day”
          Yes, 1 day in 365 is tooooo much!!
          …and bringing in 10,000 people?
          they would come here anyway,
          Hey, I have this bridge from Hawi to Hanna to sell’ya, cheap!

          1. KonaLife September 26, 2018 3:36 pm

            You seem to miss the obvious: allowing the makai lanes–there are two–for Ironman (same as they have had for decades) and having the mauka lanes for north-bound traffic. A large strip of coarse lava in between guarantees no interaction between cars and athletes.

            I can’t understand why we can’t have a win-win situation here.

            Your mocking tone, by the way, is rude and unnecessary.

          2. HHFF September 27, 2018 10:53 am

            We definitely can have a safe win-win situation here. I think some folks need to step back and look at the big picture. Mahalo Konalife, for being clear and respectful in your communication.

          3. SillyHugs September 28, 2018 10:32 am

            One day is just the race. They come and practice before the race. All they have to do is signal and pay attention. They don’t own the roads.

            It was so different when I was a kid. We volunteered as a family plenty of years. They were so nice and appreciative. I do my best to show Aloha and give space but it can be so stress for the month of Oct that we all dread it and wish it would go away…even if just out of Kona Town.

            Kona Town is way more populated and Ironman has more contenders something has to give. The airlines should give Kama’aina discounts to travel off Island the month of Oct. even if it just inter island. I would leave for the entire month and let someone visiting stay in my home and drive my truck. Win Win.

      2. HHFF September 27, 2018 10:49 am

        You aren’t getting the point. Two lanes have worked for years, let’s compromise.

        1. LOL in Kona September 27, 2018 1:17 pm

          and a few of those visitors dying…
          …no big deal, they don’t live here….
          “it is all about ME!”
          and we can’t stand 1 day out of 365 for visitors!!

          1. TN September 27, 2018 1:27 pm

            By your logic(if we can even call it that), that the hwy’s should be shut down completely because a few individuals died, and no compromises should be event entertained….

            One could conclude that the entire Ironman competition should be shutdown because a few athletes in the past have died from things like heart attacks and complications from pushing their bodies to the limits in the competition.

            I just want to point out how your thinking works when applied to a different context.

          2. LOL in Kona September 27, 2018 2:48 pm

            Giving up 1 day a year for 10,000 or more folk is “too hard”.
            Yep, all about you.
            Didn’t your mama every tell you to “share”?

          3. KonaLife September 27, 2018 3:02 pm

            Your either-or thinking is simply ridiculous. We can have both–two lanes for Ironman (as they have had for decades) and two lanes for residents. The ‘a’a (coarse lava) in the very wide median guarantees safety for the Ironman racers and drivers. Yes, my mamma told me to share, and that’s exactly what many (except you, apparently) are asking for: sharing.

          4. LOL in Kona September 27, 2018 5:30 pm

            Yes, we can.
            …and people dying is OK with you because
            giving up 1 Saturday in 365 days is just tooooo much…..
            For 1 day in 365, if it saves one life, that’s good for me
            ….for you? not so much….”let them eat cake”

          5. SillyHugs September 28, 2018 9:56 am

            LOL in Kona, you are the joke. Didn’t your momma tell you to share. How many years do we need to share and get nothing for it? Except having to deal with Assholes and horrible drives that miss their turn and can’t go around the block but pull a u turn and cause accidents and traffic jams.

          6. TN October 1, 2018 11:41 am

            Closing 2 lanes for Ironman, and keeping 2 lanes open for a traffic route… That is what sharing looks like.

          7. SillyHugs September 30, 2018 2:27 pm

            Yes! Nicely said. It sounds like “LOL in Kona” is new to this overwhelming event and how it truly effects our small/over grown town. Each year it gets worse.

            I voted if they close off all 4 lanes we make sure they have a truly amazing ironman race next year!! I have great ideas.😂

          8. SillyHugs September 28, 2018 10:14 am

            Maybe Ironman should pay more attention to their surroundings. And obey the LAWS of sharing the road.

            It is the Ironman and visitors that are the ” all about me!”
            There are plenty of low traffic areas that they can practice training on but they choice to train on the busiest and narrowest roads. Why risk your life?

            I had one guy on a bike decide that he didn’t want to turn into Hina Lani. I was in the turn lane with blinker on. He at the last minute crossed the turn lane to keep going straight. I was right there. In a Green Truck. I almost hit him. He gave me the finger when I honked. I had to pull off the road to calm down, I was shaking. Had I not been watching him more than the road I would have hit him. That could have changed everyone’s life! All he needed to do was signal .

          9. LOL in Kona September 29, 2018 1:20 pm

            The signs are clear: bicyclists ride on shoulder…
            and the “once hired, can’t be fired” folk in Hilo decided that there should be a “bicycle crossing zone”.
            Yes, the bicyclists are idiots to listen to the Hilo “experts” and
            thank you for watching the cyclist using the “bicycle crossing zone”!

          10. SillyHugs September 30, 2018 2:16 pm

            Yes!! The signs are clear!! Why are they not being followed?? If only they did use the ” bicycle crossing zone! ” i would have nothing to worry about. BUT that isn’t what happened.

      3. laakoc September 30, 2018 5:20 am

        No chance someone getting hit on the four lane portion. I’d be curious to see if they can track the expenses vs the profits as well as money spent by athletes and tourists vs residents avoiding businesses in town. We always leave for the week and avoid businesses in town plus revenue lost for businesses that shut down day of event

        1. LOL in Kona September 30, 2018 6:46 am

          Yep, the separate “4 lanes”,
          …..if folk don’t scurry up them to “save time”
          are OK,
          But then, no left turns into the harbor, the energy center…or the airport!!!

          let cars have that lane and no right turn for Costco, the dump, houses, etc…!!

          It is on day out of 365, and many folk blather it is
          ….”tooooo mmmuuuccccch! baaaaad! baaaad!”

      4. SillyHugs October 1, 2018 1:10 pm

        I can’t find a single thing talking about Ironman Jame Saikai getting hit or dying in any race. Can you please provide information.
        It is rare that an Ironman gets hit on the day of the race during the race hours. Almost all accident happen when they are training and making poor choices.

    2. HHFF September 27, 2018 10:47 am

      Thank you….I agree!

    3. TN September 27, 2018 1:08 pm

      Well put, agree 100%

  3. Sara Steiner-jackson September 26, 2018 9:18 am

    The entire business community looses a day of business. The racers are not big spenders. Who owns the ironman that they can decide to shut down entire town?

    1. Du Mhan Yhu September 27, 2018 9:23 am

      What do you care? You live on the opposite side of the island.

  4. paul September 26, 2018 4:09 pm

    1st….the bickering is goddam childish…come on.…..sadly I did not know ironman was owned bythe chineese!!!!!..that’s bad..

  5. Maloha September 27, 2018 5:37 am

    BS! Close one half for IM and turn the other side into two way traffic!

    1. LOL in Kona September 27, 2018 5:33 pm

      No turns allowed? How about the Airport? is it offlimits?

      ….or is the event to “stop” while cars turn so they don’t kill someone
      ……like 2016 Ironman James Saikai last November….

      1. KonaLife October 2, 2018 9:11 am

        If you’re going to keep mentioning Mr Sakai, get his name right. It’s James Sakai.

        And, also note that he did not die during Ironman; he died in an unfortunate accident while training several weeks after.

        Ironman Inc has ample resources to run the race safely on two lanes, as they have done for over 30 years.

        Your argument, repeated ad nausuem by you that running the race on two lanes (as they have always done) will result in deaths is just plain BS fear mongering incomprehensible garbage.

      2. SillyHugs October 3, 2018 12:06 pm

        It was James Sakai ( you are spelling his name wrong) and doesn’t say he is an Ironman. October 2017, Sakai HIT the BACK of the truck after the truck completed its turn into the airport. The Drive of the truck was flagged through the intersection by a motorist traveling in the opposite direction. There was plenty construction going on at that time as well and all ambulances in that area with on other calls. They had to wait for an ambulance to travel from Capt Cook. So How is your BS story now.

        But so you can keep whining like a little girl Ironman professional Tim Don was hit by Honokohau Street. Tim is live and well. so maybe you can’t cry anymore.

  6. LOL in Kona September 27, 2018 6:51 am

    Let’s all sing:
    …It’s all about ME! ME! ME!
    …the road can’t be closed 1 day out of 365!!
    …I! I! I! might want to go some where!!
    …So what if those losers are killed, no big deal!!
    …It’s all about ME! ME! ME!

    1. Sara Steiner-jackson September 27, 2018 8:14 am

      I have spoken to businesses in Kona, and the 10,000 people do not come here on vacation to spend money, besides renting a hotel room. They don’t eat out at fancy restaurants cause they are in training, how much art and clothing do they purchase? They uncaringly close down the entire Kona side with their activities, it’s all about them….

    2. Sara Steiner-jackson September 27, 2018 8:15 am

      Plenty of room at the Old Kona Airport

    3. SillyHugs October 1, 2018 12:45 pm

      Keep repeating the same BS. Yes, a lot of people just want to get to WORK. you know that thing you need to survive ? Maybe Ironman should pay the people so the business can shut down?!
      Where do you live LOL in Kona? You do not sounds like someone with Aloha at all!

  7. laakoc September 30, 2018 5:17 am

    I would Iike the owners of iron man to explaining to me how any of the athletes are going to get hurt if they use two of the four lanes with a median in between them. It’s bad enough I have to put up with some of the athletes riding in the middle of the small winding roads down south. I’m thankful for school being on break

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