East Hawaii News

Meeting Set on Another Saddle Road Improvement

June 7, 2012, 4:51 PM HST
* Updated June 7, 6:18 PM
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Saddle Road has seen much improvement in recent years, making the commute between East and West Hawaii quicker and safer.

Now state and federal officials are looking to take that another step further.

The state Department of Transportation will hold an informational meeting June 14 to brief the public on a proposal to create an extension of Saddle Road from Highway 190, also known as Mamalahoa Highway, down to the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway.

The meeting next Thursday will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School.

Roughly 30 miles of the 47-mile-long Saddle Road has been improved since 2007, and an additional 10.3-mile section is currently under construction. That phase of the project will allow drivers to bypass the western end of Saddle Road – an area known as the Seven Steps for its hilly terrain containing numerous one-lane bridges – and connect with Mamalahoa Highway two miles south of the Waikoloa Road intersection.

A new section of Saddle Road being constructed through Keamuku would bypass narrow and bumpy portions of the existing roadway shown above. Saddle Road Supplemental EIS photo.

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The construction is taking place in Keamuku, crossing a 26,000-acre parcel purchased in 2006 from Parker Ranch by the US Army as an addition to the Pohakuloa Training Area.

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According to Doug Hecox of the Federal Highway Administration’s public affairs office, the Keamuku section is about 70% complete and should be completed by next May.

Additional improvements are also in the works for Saddle Road’s eastern end above Hilo.

The next step, the subject of next week’s public meeting, involves the extension to Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway.

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The state has hired the Hilo consulting firm Geometrician Associates to prepare an environmental impact statement for the extension project.

According to a preparation notice for the EIS issued last month, the extension will resolve a “major gap” that exists in the transportation needs between the two sides of the Big Island, the stretch between the western end of Saddle Road and Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway.

Without the extension, motorists going to or coming from Kona will be required to use either the winding Mamalahoa Highway or Waikoloa Road to or from the coastal highway.

The extension would cross a 10-mile-long area that includes some cattle grazing activity to the east and a quarry to the west with few active land uses or roads in between. No structures are located in the area, the EISPN said.

Several alternative routes through the area are under consideration. They primarily affect the extension’s lower portion, and one alternative would travel in the area of Waikoloa Road.

The EIS will study a variety of impacts from the extension project including those on flora and fauna, socioeconomic factors such as historic and cultural sites, and traffic.

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