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Update on Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project

MEDIA RELEASE

The State Department of Transportation (DOT) would like to update the Big Island community on the current status of work on the second phase of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project which will improve the roadway by adding two additional lanes. Recent news articles suggested that work on the highway widening project was targeted for September 2012. Unfortunately, as anxious as we are to begin physical work on this important project, we have a number of tasks still left unaccomplished before we can begin.

The project includes four lanes separated by a median between Kealakehe Parkway and the Keahole Airport Access Road. The median is planned to allow future improvements along the highway. In addition to the highway widening, a new signalized intersection will be included at the entrance to the National Park. This new intersection will provide a safe crossing for pedestrians and motorists. Since the completion of the first phase of the widening project between Henry Street and Kealakehe Parkway, DOT personnel have been working with the selected contractor and members of the community, including the National Park Service, to develop a roadway plan that addresses our transportation network while respecting the resources around us.

To ensure that cultural resources are protected, we engaged an archaeologist to re-survey the highway alignment to ensure that all sites of cultural importance were identified. We are coordinating these mitigation measures with the State Historic Preservation Division, Federal Highway Administration and members of the community.

Coordination efforts between the National Park Services, contractor and the DOT will ensure that work along the highway will not impact activities and resources at the Parks. As an example, lighting along the highway at the intersections will be shielded to preserve the night sky and reduce light pollution. Additional efforts will be taken to prevent runoff from the highway from entering the groundwater. This is an important step to protect the anchialine ponds along the shoreline.

During the archaeological survey, we located a burial site at the edge of the highway right-of-way. After various consultations, it was recommended to the Hawai‘i Island Burial Council that the burial be left in place. A 27-foot construction buffer will be provided along the roadway. When construction is completed, a full 75 feet will separate the burial from the edge of the roadway. Further, no action will be taken to draw attention to the burial site.

For archaeological sites near the highway construction, a data recovery and preservation plan has been prepared and is currently under review by the Historic Preservation Division. Once they have completed their review, field work to document these sites will commence.

The final action being undertaken by the DOT and its partner, the Federal Highway Administration, is to craft a document that memorializes the agreements made to date and the actions to be taken.

The Department continues to be mindful of the need for this project on many different fronts and continues to work towards this goal. We appreciate and ask for the public’s continued patience before work begins.

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