Ainaloa and county
see eye to eye over road


Thursday, June 10, 2004

A story on the Puna Emergency Access Road on Page A3 yesterday incorrectly said that the state contributed funds for construction of the road. Funding came from county and federal sources.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

HILO >> When a truck smashed into a utility pole and blocked the only highway into lower Puna south of Hilo last week, police might have re-routed traffic through the Puna Emergency Access Road.


But most of the emergency road is private, a gate across it was locked, and neither police nor fire officials had keys. Three hours passed before highway traffic returned to normal.

The Ainaloa Community Association, which owns part of the emergency road, had locked the gate "to spark some action," according to Hawaii County documents filed in court the next day.

Judge Greg Nakamura issued a temporary restraining order preventing the community from blocking the road until a hearing tomorrow.

Then something unusual happened.

The two sides came to an understanding -- after two years of the Ainaloa community saying its road is too unsafe to be used as a highway and two years of the county saying it had no money to fix the road.

The county agreed to take over maintenance and liability on the 3.1-mile Ainaloa section of the emergency road, an agreement expected to be formalized at tomorrow's court hearing.

Simultaneously, the Hawaii County Council is working on a resolution to let the county obtain ownership of the 5.3 miles of the road through the neighboring Hawaiian Acres subdivision.

At present, the only part of the road owned by the county is one-third of a mile linking the communities.

The factor that allowed an agreement was money. A bond sale by the county earlier this year provided $3.5 million to upgrade the road.

Cobbled together in the late 1990s from previously existing subdivision streets with $1.7 million in state and county funds, the road needs the work.

The Ainaloa portion, passing through a stretch of suburbia, has blind hills where drivers cannot see whether children are playing on the other side.

The Hawaiian Acres portion is worse, with a narrow strip of asphalt cutting through jungle with only an occasional house along the way. Some of the pavement started to wash away as soon as it was laid down. Heavy rains once created a river several feet deep running across the road.

The road was originally created to solve emergencies like the utility pole blocking the Keaau-Pahoa Highway last week. But it soon became a daily necessity, providing a shortcut for residents to go to work, shop, and take their children to school between lower Puna and upper Puna.

Blocking the road "threatens the citizens of Hawaii County with immediate, irreparable harm," the county's court filing said.


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