Waiaka Stream Bridge project to move forward

  • Traffic crosses the Waiakea Bridge in Waimea. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • A Hele-On bus crosses Waiaka Bridge in Waimea. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

WAIMEA — A state senator who served as transportation chairwoman in this year’s legislative session and a Department of Transportation spokeswoman say a long-stalled project to replace the Waiaka Stream Bridge is moving forward.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye said the state’s effort to replace the 87-year-old bridge, located near the intersection of Kohala Mountain and Kawaihae roads in Waimea, “is moving along except for … the stall of needing additional property.”

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Both Inouye and DOT spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said the state is in the final stages of preparing a consultant contract to conduct a new environmental assessment for the project, which has been on, then off, for the better part of a decade.

“We are looking at August to have our consultant on board … and we’ll be engaging with the community by the end of the year,” Inouye said late last month. “The environmental studies and the design, we hope to have completed by the end of 2021.”

A two-year budget in 2017 included $6 million for planning and land acquisition but no construction funds.

The state released a draft EA in 2011 to replace the 38-foot-long, 25-foot-wide bridge with one 80 feet long and 53 feet wide, with a shoulder/bike lane and raised sidewalk and railings. At the time, estimates placed the cost of the project between $8 million and $14 million, not including costs for land acquisition.

An inspection of the bridge at that time labeled the bridge as structurally deficient, with the draft EA stating the bridge has a “sufficiency rating” of 26 out of 100.

Kunishige said last year the 26 rating doesn’t mean the bridge is unsafe, and the DOT backed off plans to lower weight restrictions on the bridge from 40 tons to 15 tons.

The earlier draft EA was pulled in 2016 as a result of “new circumstances and information that might require additional studies,” Kunishige said in 2017.

In a July 3 email, Kunishige said the Waiakea Stream Bridge “remains a priority project for HDOT due to needed improvements to the bridge’s deck geometry, approach alignment, and design capacity.”

She added the new EA “will examine alternatives including replacing the bridge and adjusting the traffic flow to make it easier and more efficient to move through the area with the goal of ensuring we improve the safety for all roadway users.”

The bridge construction project has been opposed by actress Roseanne Barr, who owns three Big Island properties through her Big Buck Trust, including the former Kamuela Museum site in the Lalamilo Houselots area near the bridge. She launched an online campaign to save the current bridge from demolition.

In late 2014, Barr used her Roseanneworld blog to accuse “government encroachment of threatening to destroy two important Waimea landmarks and further dilute and desecrate the rich history of the Hawaiian peoples.”

“I have tried for years to stop the desecration of the Waiaka Bridge, and having failed, I wish to turn to the people of this community who care about the history of the Big Island, to make their voices heard,” Barr wrote.

The other landmark mentioned by Barr is the Kamuela Museum, which appears to have been shuttered in late 2015 or early 2016.

“I don’t think she’s a good neighbor, as far as I’m concerned,” said Inouye, the senate majority whip whose district includes Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa and parts of Kona.

“Probably we’ll have to look at acquiring properties on the street on the other side. The neighbors on the Kohala side have been good about working with DOT, so hopefully, the options are there for finally getting this project going.”

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The Tribune-Herald was unable to reach Barr or a representative for comment.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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