$90M allocated for Daniel K. Inouye Highway project

  • The busy terminus of Daniel K. Inouye Highway at Mamalahoa Highway, also known as Highway 190, is seen Dec. 17. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

A bill containing $90 million to extend Daniel K. Inouye Highway to Queen Kaahumanu Highway is awaiting Gov. David Ige’s signature.

The funding for the long-awaited and much-needed project is among $5.1 billion in capital improvement project monies approved Thursday by state lawmakers prior to recessing the 2020 Legislature.


The project will extend the cross-island route, known colloquially as Saddle Road, from its current terminus at Mamalahoa Highway to Queen Kaahumanu Highway. Federal officials said in March they had received and were beginning to assess comments on the project’s archaeological inventory survey that was completed several years ago.

Project Manager Mike Will with the Federal Highway Administration’s Central Federal Lands Highway Division did not respond to a request for an update on the project as of press time. The most recent update posted on the division’s website was April 1, stating no change in status from the March update.

Once completed, and a funding source is committed, a Record of Decision will be issued, completing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and allowing the project to move forward.

About $85 million of the $90 million allocated would be funded via revenue bond with the remaining $5 million derived from the special fund to finish environmental work, acquire land and construct the road.

Currently, the department is planning to utilize state funds only, though the project remains eligible for federal funding that would cover up to 80% of the cost.

“In short, this highway will provide a much-needed economic stimulus during the construction phase, and meet all of criteria required by this grant. These criteria include improving the quality of life, economic competitiveness, and highway safety,” Kona resident Aaron Stene wrote in a FY2020 Build Grant support letter tendered in April. “Hawaii’s largely tourism based economy has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Saddle Road Extension project would create badly needed construction jobs that would jump start Hawaii’s economy. I hope the FHWA will allocate a FY2020 BUILD grant towards this important highway project.”

According to the draft EIS released in April 2017, the approximate 10.5-mile extension is expected to take about two years to construct once work is underway.

There’s currently three alignments in consideration. One option would have the road approximately follow the boundary between the North Kona and South Kohala districts. The others would take the road farther north and connect to Waikoloa Road close to mile marker 3, with the third option also using 2 miles of Waikoloa Road west of that mile marker.

State officials have previously said a proejct schedule would be set once the EIS is finalized.

Saddle Road, most of which was renamed Daniel K. Inouye Highway post-modernization and western realignment, was originally built in 1942 as a one-lane road to connect military training facilities. For years, the county maintained the state-owned roadway until the 1980s when a push for the state to take responsibility began, according to West Hawaii Today archives and previous environmental studies conducted for the roadway.

The effort to modernize Saddle Road from Mamalahoa Highway to Hilo dates to February 1991, when an interagency scoping meeting was held in Honolulu to discuss improvements of the roadway within PTA. By May 1994, public scoping meetings were held for the preparation of an EIS.

In October 1997, a draft EIS for the project was published with a final EIS released September 1999. That’s when an EIS for the extension began, though it was delayed for years due to uncertainty about the western terminus of the re-aligned Saddle Road that arose when the U.S. Army purchased for training the land the road was to cross, requiring a supplemental EIS that wasn’t completed until 2010.

In 2011, the EIS process for the extension was resumed, followed by the publication of a preparation notice in May 2012 and the draft’s release in April 2017.

Saddle Road has now been modernized or realigned for 48 miles between Hilo and its terminus a few miles south of Mamalahoa Highway’s intersection with Waikoloa Road. As of October 2017, state and federal agencies reported having spent $316.5 million on the project.

The road was named the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, in memory of the U.S. senator who championed the road improvement project, following the 2013 completion of the stretch of road between mile marker 42 and its terminus with Mamalahoa Highway.

Other west-side CIP projects funded via the bill

• $2.5 million for plans, design and constriction of an exploratory well and related improvements for agricultural use in North Kohala

• $9 million for various facility improvements at KOA

• $700,000 for land acquisition and construction of a runaway truck ramp along Kawaihae Road

• $4.1 million for land and acquisition and design for replacing the existing Waiaka Stream Bridge and realigning the intersection of routes 19 and 250.

• $22 million for design and construction for improvements in Waimea, including multimodal improvements in Waimea town, operational improvements at Kawaihae and Lindsey roads and a bypass between Kawaihae Road and Mamalahoa Highway.

• $6.3 million for design and construction for track and field improvements and for synthetic field and replacement of synthetic track at Konawaena High School


• $2 million for land acquisition, ground and site improvements at Ke Kula o Ehunuikaimalino

•$ 500,000 for plans and design for parking, restroom and trailhead restoration at Pololu Valley

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