Traffic issues expected over course of year-long Alii culvert work

  • Traffic backs up at the Alii Drive bridge. (Chelsea Jensen / West Hawaii Today)
  • Traffic backs up at the Alii Drive bridge. (Chelsea Jensen / West Hawaii Today)

  • Traffic backs up at the Alii Drive bridge. (Chelsea Jensen / West Hawaii Today)
  • The double-cell culvert bridging the Waiaha Drainageway on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona. (LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — The price to replace a deteriorating culvert on Alii Drive came in under budget this week.

Hilo-based Isemoto Contracting Co. Ltd. submitted the lowest bid for the project at $8.97 million — about $3 million less than the county estimated the project would cost. The Federal Highways Administration is picking up 80 percent of the cost, or about $7.2 million, while the county will pay the remainder.


Hawaii County officials this week opened bids for the project that’ll change out and expand the over 81-year-old culvert, also referred to as a bridge, located about 1.5 miles south of the center of Kailua Village. In all, six contractors submitted proposals; the highest bid offered was $13.36 million.

Field work in the area of the Waiaha Drainageway is expected to get underway in May, Hawaii County Department of Public Works spokesman Barett Otani said. That’s contingent on the state Department of Transportation concurring with the contract, allowing the county to officially award it.

Actual construction, which will be completed in phases to minimize impacts on traffic and pedestrians, will take about a year. The contractor has 724 calendar days from the issuance of a notice to proceed to execute the contract.

Otani said a public meeting will be held prior to the start of work in May.

Work is to take place Monday through Friday, excluding state holidays. Two lanes of traffic shall be provided during peak travel hours. But, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. the contractor may impose a single-lane closure.

Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians should anticipate traffic to be more congested during the project.

“It’s going to be disastrous,” said motorist Jim Williams as he rolled north along Alii Drive toward the culvert Friday morning.

Williams was one of the scores of cars to pass through the area Friday between 7:15 and 9 a.m. The area is known for congestion and northbound traffic can back up nearly a mile at times from the Lunapule Road stop sign, north of the culvert, to the Alii Lani area. It’s also highly used by walkers, joggers and bikers.

The worst of the traffic was before 8:15 a.m., and by 8:30, the time the county says the contractor can limit the roadway there to one lane, traffic had let up quite nicely.

From 7:45-7:50 a.m., West Hawaii Today counted 61 vehicles crawling north on the roadway over the culvert. Prior to the start and end of the count, traffic was backed up south beyond sight at Kona Shores. Dozens of pedestrians and bikes were also in the mix.

But, an hour later, from 8:45-8:50 a.m., traffic flowed decently with cars cruising over the culvert. During that five-minute period, 50 cars passed with no backups. Pedestrians and cyclists continued to use the bridge, but far fewer than the hour prior.

One of those pedestrians was Sharron Vargas, who moved here in March and walks Alii Drive nearly every day from the Alii Lani area to Kailua Village. Her biggest concern, right now, is safety as she walks over the culvert twice a day and frequently sees drivers speeding or simply not paying attention to the road.

“It’s especially bad in this area,” she said while standing on the makai side of Alii Drive, north of the culvert. “I always wait and see if someone is coming but I like this walk.”

She’s hopeful that the work will improve the area and make it safer for all users.

That is the plan, according to an environmental assessment finalized for the project in August 2017.

The new structure will include a wider bridge above with two 5-foot-wide bike lanes and two 7-foot-wide raised sidewalks. It’ll be 49 feet wide total, providing more room than the current bridge that comprises two 10-foot lanes and a narrow shoulder.

The project includes demolition of pavement, culvert, walls, seawall and removal of trees; rock stream channel excavation; and the construction of a new bridge in phases, CRM wall, waterlines, sewer lines, pavement markings, signs, and adjusting valve box frames and covers, according to the invitation for bids posted Nov. 15.

Though described as “structurally deficient” and “functionally obsolete” and near the end of its design life in a final Environmental Assessment for the project, Otani said previously that bridge engineers have deemed it safe for use.


It’s been reinforced over the years, most recently after flooding in September 2015, but it needs to be replaced after preliminary design work determined it cannot cope with repairs, maintenance and upgrades. The new structure will include a wider and longer culvert structure capable of handling more water flow.

The county had worked to address the culvert in 1998, but the project was put on hold because of financial constrictions. Current efforts to replace it started around 2014.

  1. LOL in Kona January 13, 2019 6:32 am

    and that “stop sign” these cars are waiting for doesn’t matter….
    …the culvert replacement will stop’em even better!

  2. paul January 13, 2019 4:58 pm

    need to make ali’i drive a 1 way road….but nobody has the guts to do this….the amount of traffic will never be will grow..and it will be worse..guaranteed

  3. Buds4All January 13, 2019 6:11 pm

    First of all expect the dollar amount to double as well as the time frame to do the work. I am sure they will dig up some sort of bones that will halt work!

  4. Steve Oliver January 13, 2019 7:10 pm

    There is absolutely no reason this should take a year.

  5. Franklin Glenn February 2, 2019 4:34 pm

    After the repairs on Alii are done, they really need to fix the congestion by installing a Signal at Alii and Lunapulli. I have always heard the county wants no signals on Alii, but the time has come at least at Lunapulli/Alli for signals. Before the stop sign was installed Alii moved fine. Making Alii one way in my opinion is not option given you would have to go a mile plus south to get to Kuakini and that road is very slow due to children and bumps.

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