East Hawaii News

6 Miles To Go – Schatz Pushes for Saddle Rd Completion

August 21, 2013, 8:53 PM HST
* Updated August 22, 10:00 PM
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As the Kona-phase of the soon-to-be “Daniel K. Inouye Memorial Highway” nears its opening date of Sept. 7, Hawaii’s congressional delegation is making a push for $50 million in federal funds to complete the project’s final leg.

That last leg is a roughly 6 mile stretch of road leading to Hilo’s Puainako extension.

US Senator Brian Schatz, during a site visit with project managers from the Federal Department of Transportation, explained to Big Island Now that funding for the final stretch of the highway depends in part on the results of a “Tiger Grant” application pending with the Department of Transportation.

Federal Highway Administration Project Manager J. Michael Will estimated that $290 million had been spent on the project so far, and described the current grant process as highly-competitive, with the available funds falling several hundred million dollars short of the amount requested by various state governments.

Despite that funding gap, Schatz seemed optimistic about the Big Island’s chances for getting the final portion of the highway completed.

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Schatz said he would be meeting with the new secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx, as soon as he gets back to Washington, DC.

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The fact that the highway is so close to being finished is a plus, said Schatz, who stated “The basic point we’re making is… this has been a priority for a long time, and we’re almost at the finish line.”

Senator Brian Schatz, far-right, meets with Department of Transportation project managers. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Senator Brian Schatz, far-right, meets with Department of Transportation project managers. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Will, who took Schatz and a group of reporters on a tour along both the old and new roadways, explained that the grant review process usually takes around 3 months. The current Tiger Grant application was turned in near the beginning of June. The final decision over the grant award rests with the Department of Transportation, and Secretary Fox.

The most recently completed section of the project, which connects the new road to Mamalahoa Highway, could shave an additional 18 minutes off the time it takes to get between East and West Hawai`i, according to on-site project engineer Mark Smith, who has driven the newly paved road frequently.

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Goodfellow Brothers, the lead contractor during the highway’s construction, was able to complete the latest section of the road four months ahead of schedule, Smith said, adding that more recently, construction has been happening “seven days a week.”

Hilo's Puainako extension, where the new Saddle Road project will eventually intersect. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Hilo’s Puainako extension, where the new Saddle Road project will eventually intersect. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Apart from saving time for drivers, the new road, which has a 55 mile per hour speed limit, will also allow more options for tourists. Until recently, most rental car companies had barred customers from traversing the old sections of the Saddle Road due to hazardous conditions.

A dedication ceremony and blessing for the Daniel K. Inouye Memorial Highway will be held on the afternoon of Sept. 7, with the newly completed section of the road to be opened to traffic later that day.

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