By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Invited guests took bus tours of H-3 today before the
official dedication and opening of the freeway.

H-3 gets
green light today

The project spanned
'from statehood to the millennium'

By Helen Altonn
and Pat Omandam

After more than three decades of planning, controversy and construction, the H-3 freeway was dedicated this morning as the first motorists were expected to drive the route later today.

The 11 a.m. dedication ceremony near one of the entrances to the freeway's mile-long tunnels began under overcast skies and a sprinkling of rain, but the mood among some 500 invited guests was celebratory.

"It looks good," said Pat Hironaga, a retired state Transportation Department official who was closely involved with the 16.1-mile, $1.3 billion project. "They did a good job."

In prepared remarks, Gov. Ben Cayetano called the occasion a "drive into the future," and noted the project spanned the state's history from "statehood to the new millennium."

The freeway linking Leeward and Windward Oahu offers "a quicker and shorter route to economic development and new job opportunities on both sides of the island," he said.

Cayetano expressed pride at the highway's safety benefits and technological features, and commended those who had a role in making it a reality.

But he also alluded to the debates that led to long construction delays.

"We have learned to make sure that environmental assessments are objective," he said. "We have learned that we must take care to preserve our ancient Hawaiian sites. And have learned to be aware of escalating costs."

Many islanders were expected to try out the new road when it was to be opened to the public at 3 p.m.

"We're substantially ready at this point," state Highways Administrator Hugh Y. Ono said yesterday.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Electronic signs dot the roadway and tunnels.

"Whether we're 100 percent ready or not, I don't believe that everything's in place. But as far as safety provisions in order to open the highway, yes, we'll have that done," he said.

As the freeway enters a new stage, so do some native Hawaiian opponents, who planned to discard their worn-out placards for prayers. A'o Pohaku Rodenhurst, the head of the Spiritual Nation of Ku, was expected to lead a Hawaiian blessing at the dedication.

Rodenhurst, who has fought the project for years, said the time has come for Hawaiians to make peace over the desecration of religious and cultural sites and instead find responsible solutions to deal with it.

For instance, the group received permission to take part in the dedication so it can "cleanse" H-3 of any curses that they claim may affect motorists of native Hawaiian or other ancestries.

"We know that there is difference of opinion from other Hawaiian groups," Rodenhurst said. "We understand that they want people to respect the rights and not to drive over the bones of their ancestors and all that kind of stuff. ... It is easy to curse; it is easy to make pilau. But that is not a solution; that is a problem."

Members and supporters of the group Malama Halawa/Kaneohe Ohana also planned to hold a spiritual vigil during the dedication, and again in the afternoon.

Opponents say prayers will be offered to ancestors to ask forgiveness in their unsuccessful efforts to stop H-3, and to heal the spiritual damage the freeway may have caused in Haiku and Halawa valleys.

"We're mostly concentrating on the cultural and spiritual aspects of the future, and on the continued caretakership," member Laulani Teale said recently.

Even those who worked on the freeway's archaeology claim a special affinity to H-3.

Archaeologist Earl "Buddy" Neller, who spent seven years studying H-3 while with the State Historic Preservation Office and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, believes the ancient Hawaiian sites at Luluku, Kukuiokane and Hale O Papa are significant. But he's frustrated he couldn't convince others likewise.

Still, Neller welcomes the opportunity to return to complete pending H-3 survey reports. Years of work still must be done, he said.

"There will always be people for whom these sites are just curiosities, uninteresting piles or rock, or whatever," Neller said from Urbana, Ill. "I know that as a committed professional archaeologist, these sites and others like them have played an important role in my life."

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