Friday, Jan. 27, 2023 |
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The long-sought Daniel K. Inouye Highway extension in West Hawaii has hit another roadblock.
Environmental studies, which are required for the project that would bring the cross-island route to Queen Kaahumanu Highway, have officially been terminated — the latest blow to the project in the works since 1999.
The state Department of Transportation recently notified its partner on the project, the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA), that the extension was “no longer feasible.” That moved the federal agency to issue a notice in late September that preparation of a National Environmental Protection Act environmental impact statement for the project was being rescinded.
“The primary reason for this determination is the financial impact of the estimated right-of-way and construction costs of the Project. Therefore, the preparation of the EIS is being terminated,” the Sept. 27 Federal Register reads.
The official termination of the environmental impact statement (EIS) follows the release in 2017 of its draft, and efforts to secure funding until the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on state coffers in 2020. In early 2021, however, the state said a record of decision on the draft EIS was expected by year’s end. That determination would have allowed the project to move forward into land acquisition.
Months later, however, the department shelved the project, suspending all expenditures “for the time being.”
“The primary reason for my decision is the cost of the project. We were at a cost of around $100 mil for the project without addressing all environmental mitigations. At this time, the project does not prioritize well with other Hawaii Island and statewide projects given the large cost with respect to current and anticipated traffic volumes, congestion relief, safety improvements, and environmental factors,” Department of Transportation Deputy Director of Highways Ed Sniffen told legislators at the time according to the department’s communications office.
Sniffen added challenges remained with environmental clearance, particularly with respect to the Section 106 consultation process, however, he didn’t expect it to be a “barrier” to the project. He noted that the state was working on mitigations for anticipated impacts to historic and archaeological sites, but had run into issues with impacted properties on Queen Kaahumanu Highway.
“Not moving this project forward at this time will allow us to finalize the mitigations for Queen Kaahumanu Highway sooner, and will make the Section 106 process more efficient when the DKI West extension is restarted,” he said.
With the hold, Sniffen said the state’s cooperative agreement with the FHWA Central Federal Lands Highway Division to bring the project to fruition would end.
“CFL is an amazing partner, and they have worked closely with us to transition all information, studies, and designs to our staff to ensure we can pick things up timely when we move the project forward again,” he said.
However, it’s unclear when work on the project’s environmental studies might be picked back up. According to the a study conducted by the Executive Office of the President Council on Environmental Quality, completing an EIS takes about 4.5 years from the issuance of a notice of intent to prepare the document to receiving a record of decision.
The Daniel K. Inouye Highway extension has also been removed the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program list, which identifies projects slated for federal funding in the coming years.
However, the Department of Transportation on Friday said the state remains committed to the project. To date, over $2.9 million has been spent on planning for the extension.
“HDOT will continue to apply for consideration of the Saddle Road/DKI Highway Extension in discretionary grant opportunities. If a grant award is made, we will process an amendment to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and publish a notice of intent to prepare the Final EIS,” said spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige.
The approximately 10.5-mile extension is expected to take about two years to construct once work was underway.
Saddle Road, most of which was renamed Daniel K. Inouye Highway post-modernization and western realignment in 2013, was originally built in 1942 as a one-lane road to connect military training facilities. The 52-mile road provides the quickest route for commuters between East and West Hawaii.
Extending Daniel K. Inouye Highway all the way to Queen Kaahumany Highway would have shaved additional time and miles off the commute. That’s in addition to removing vehicles and large trucks from heavily used Waikoloa Road.
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