Kapiolani dreading overdue roadwork
Expected projects to fix underground pipes will hamper business revenues
Over the last 13 months, there have been six water main breaks on Kapiolani Boulevard -- proof enough, officials say, that a two-year project to replace 70-year-old pipes under the thoroughfare is as overdue as it is dreaded.
Underground water and sewer woes
A $29.2 million project to repair water and sewer lines under Kapiolani Boulevard will start this summer, closing up to four lanes and restricting left turns from Ward to Kalakaua avenues. The work follows a spate of water line breaks along Kapiolani Boulevard over the last 13 months. The breaks happened on:
» Jan. 31, near Ward Avenue.
» Jan. 30, near Kamakee Street.
» Dec. 1, at the intersection with Ward Avenue.
» June 9, at 949 Kapiolani Blvd.
» June 4, at 909 Kapiolani Blvd.
» Jan. 31, 2005, at 1517 Kapiolani Blvd.
"It's always going to have impacts on motorists, businesses, residents -- and we understand that," Board of Water Supply spokeswoman Su Shin said, "but this project is critical. It has to happen. It's clearly time."
The project is also expected to be the first in a long line of major water main replacement work over the next decade as pipes installed just before World War II reach their breaking point.
The average age of water pipes on Oahu is 30 to 50 years, Shin said, but many pipes were installed when Oahu's population was expanding exponentially in the 1930s and 40s.
And now, Shin said, those pipes are "all coming to an end."
Retailers along Kapiolani say they are expecting 30- to 40-percent decreases in business when the water work starts this summer, narrowing much of the street down to two lanes and restricting left turns. Some have scaled back their inventories and say they are even considering cuts to their employees' hours.
During the $29.2 million project, crews will replace water pipes installed as far back as 1935. At the same time, the city will be repairing a 36-inch sewer main installed 83 years ago.
Curb ramps will also be made wheelchair-accessible.
Details on the project, including lane closures and work times, will be released closer to its start date. The project was originally slated to start this month but was pushed back while the Water Board looked for a cheaper bid.
To help businesses hit by the work, the board and city have agreed to halt repairs from Thanksgiving to New Year's during both years of the project -- but that is small consolation to some. "It's just going to kill business," said Dani Minor, owner of Paragon Body Piercing. "I wish they wouldn't do it."
Nevada Bob's Golf, across from Ala Moana Center, lost as much as $1,000 a day in 2004 when the city brought Kapiolani down to two lanes during a four-month emergency sewer repair project.
"It's brutal," said manager Jeff Schroeder. "If the work has to be done, I just hope they get it done as quickly as possible."
There were four water main breaks on Kapiolani Boulevard in 2005 and two so far this year. On Jan. 30 a break forced the closure of all six lanes of traffic on Kapiolani from Kamakee Street to Ward Avenue during the afternoon rush hour.
A day later a second break again closed lanes.
There were no sewer line breaks, but city officials said that was thanks to the emergency repair in 2004, which concentrated on the worst sections of main.
The sections of pipeline repaired in that project are good for at least 50 more years, city Chief Engineer Eldon Franklin said.
About a year after the Kapiolani project is complete, the city will repave the entire thoroughfare. Franklin said businesses should anticipate more lane closures over about a two-month period during the work.
On a recent weekend, many customers patronizing Kapiolani businesses said the work would probably keep them away.
"We may change routes and go to different stores," said Naomi Stephens as she sat with her husband and 3-year-old daughter outside Tapioca Express, enjoying chocolate-covered strawberries and a cold drink.
"When you have a lot of traffic," John Stephens agreed, "people say, 'Forget it. I'm not going down there.'"
That's what Yuka Inouye, co-owner of the Quiksilver Boardriders store, fears.
She said she has already warned her 10 employees that she might have to cut their hours or lay them off entirely if the store starts to lose money.
During the 2004 sewer project, she said, "we lost a lot of customers." When the work was complete, the store had a big "end of construction" sale to try to get them back.
Public hearings were held last year to get input on the project from business and residents. The discussions spurred the holiday work moratorium, Shin said.
The project will replace the 12-inch, cast-iron water main under Kapiolani with PVC piping -- except for a small section from Atkinson Drive to Kalakaua Avenue, where ductile iron pipes will be installed in a spot contaminated with petroleum.
The concrete sewer line will be repaired with a fiberglass liner.
Islandwide, it is unclear how many pipes need to be replaced over the coming years.
Shin pointed out that it is cheaper in the long run to replace a main rather than continue to repair it after breaks. "You don't want main breaks," she said. "They're destructive and they cost us money."
She also said planned replacement work has a smaller impact on the public than emergency repairs.