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Ane Keohokalole Highway now visible from Palani

A D-11 bulldozer works on cutting the the final few hundred yards to Palani Road on the Ane Keohokalole Highway project Monday (Aug 23). Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

A D-11 bulldozer works on cutting the the final few hundred yards to Palani Road on the Ane Keohokalole Highway project Monday (Aug 23). Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Contributing Editor

The Ane Keohokalole Highway will be a little more real to drivers along Palani Road, after heavy equipment cleared vegetation Monday morning at the intersection with Henry Street.

Also called the Mid-Level Road, the three-mile, $35 million thoroughfare now links Palani Road with Kealakehe Parkway, although much work still needs to be done.

Mayor Billy Kenoi watched as the last 100 feet of non-native trees were grubbed and the public given its first closeup glimpse of this project, being built by funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“It’s very exciting but we also know there is a long way to go,” Kenoi said. The mayor said he is pleased that the project is being conducted with respect to land, culture and history of the area.

Kenoi’s executive assistant for West Hawaii, Bobby Command, said Monday’s breakthrough will show how far the project has come since ground was broken March 30.

“Now that we’ve made the connection to Palani, it’s a major milestone and it’s the first time people will really be able to see what’s happening,” Command said. “They’ll be able to see we’re making progress and this is a reality.”

Work is on schedule to be completed in two years. Most of the earthmoving has taken place out of sight, about 4,000 feet mauka of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway. Except for a small detour near Kealakehe High School, residents have been unaffected by the work.

Next month, Nan Hawaii Inc. will begin working on Palani Road improvements. Initially, it will be utility infrastructure, but eventually Palani will be repaved around the Henry Street intersection.

Ane Keohokalole Highway is more than a road meant to relieve traffic congestion. The project lays the groundwork for the orderly expansion of Kailua-Kona by creating affordable housing opportunities; facilitating homesteads for Native Hawaiians; allowing bus routes to connect homes, jobs, recreation, education and health facilities and furthering the goals of the Kona Community Development Plan, Command said.

“This could not have happened without the cooperation of the Kona community,” Kenoi said. “The progress of construction on this road is a testament to the will of the people.”

More than $1 million set aside by the Federal Highways Administration will be used to perpetuate a 15th century farm site adjoining the highway project. The Queen Liliuokalani Trust (QLT), which deeded land for the highway to the county, has long known about this well-preserved remnant of the Kona Field System. This expenditure will also slow a thriving black market in Hawaiian artifacts which are so abundant in this area.

“I’m almost as excited about the preservation area as I am about the road,” said Kenoi. “This isn’t for us. It’s for our keiki and moopuna, something that they can visit and use to hold on to the rich past of this land.”

The 20-acre plot will be protected by fencing, said Nan Hawaii project manager Alex Leonard, and will preserve such archeological features as the Great Wall of Kuakini, burial caves and mounds, and dwelling and temple sites.

The county, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Federal Highways and developer Stanford Carr are also putting the final touches on a 150-acre preservation area at the north end of this phase of construction, setting aside one of Hawaii’s last remaining regions of Native Hawaiian Dryland Forest.

Most of the $35 million will pay for phase one of the highway, two northbound lanes from the intersection of Palani Road to just makai of Kealakehe High School where a small section of the highway exists and leads to the future West Hawaii Civic Center. About $5 million will be used to improve Palani Road between Henry Street and the Queen Kaahumanu Highway.

Future phases of the Ane Keohokalole Highway will extend the road from the civic center to Hina-Lani Street, and then to Kaiminani Drive and beyond where developers of the Palamanui subdivision are building the first increment of the new University of Hawaii-West Hawaii Center campus.

In addition to QLT, the Ane Keohokalole Highway will facilitate a state affordable housing project being built by Forest City, expansion of Hawaiian Home Lands housing at Laiopua, a commercial park development by Lanihau Properties, and market value homes in Kaloko being planned by Stanford Carr.

County Department of Parks and Recreation has asked the state to modify an executive order by the governor to allow a regional park at the former site of a proposed municipal golf course. An organization known as Laiopua 2020 will develop a community center adjacent to the park. And Kamehameha Schools has committed to establishing a preschool at the facility.

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