Round and round we go

  • People navigate through the new roundabout at Ainaloa Boulevard and Keaau-Pahoa Road in Pahoa on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

Paving work on the new roundabout at Ainaloa Boulevard in Puna has been completed, the state Department of Transportation announced this week.

In January, the DOT awarded a contract to general contractor Jas W. Glover to make improvements to the intersection of Keaau-Pahoa Road and Ainaloa Boulevard, which primarily consist of a compact roundabout to manage the intersection of the two roads, as well as related signage and traffic-management infrastructure.

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“Puna’s traffic can be quite intense,” Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said. “It’s often very scary and treacherous for drivers, particularly during the morning rush and after work, to turn onto Highway 130 amid a steady stream of vehicles. The Ainaloa roundabout will improve traffic safety for drivers and pedestrians traversing the area, and I’m grateful to the state for this investment.”

State Rep. Joy San Buenaventura said the new roundabout will reduce fatalities at the intersection.

According to the DOT, work at the intersection will continue on the shoulders, and motorists are asked to use caution in the area.

All work on the roundabout is anticipated to be completed early next year.

A DOT spokeswoman told the Tribune-Herald in May that roundabouts reduce traffic fatalities and injuries and the overall occurrence of crashes by eliminating crossing conflicts and moving vehicles through the intersection at a slower but steady speed.

Since the roundabout at the Pahoa bypass intersection opened in 2016, the number of accidents — at what was once the highest crash-rated intersection in Hawaii — has declined by 95%, the spokeswoman said in May.

In 2018, plans to widen Highway 130 fell through due to a lack of funding.

Don Smith, who was the DOT’s Hawaii Island district engineer at the time, proposed instead the installation of three new roundabouts at Orchidland Drive, Makuu Drive and Ainaloa Boulevard, the Tribune-Herald previously reported.

State legislators had allocated $30 million in capital improvement funding earlier this year to widen Keaau-Pahoa Road, or Highway 130, from two lanes to four lanes.

The DOT, however, had said that CIP appropriation would instead be used for lighting improvements and the construction of roundabouts at Makuu Drive and Orchidland Drive.

A department official said in May the CIP appropriation was to be funded with money from a rental car surcharge but that funding may not actually be available because of the lack of car rentals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The DOT did not respond to questions about the proposed roundabouts or funding as of press time Friday.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@gmail.com.

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