Officials hail island link for Hilo and West Hawaii


POSTED: Friday, December 12, 2008

HILO » Federal, state and county officials opened a rebuilt, widened, 9-mile stretch of the 49-mile Saddle Road between Hilo and West Hawaii yesterday, part of a two-decade-long process of unifying the two sides of the Big Island.

A previous segment was completed last year. To date, 17 miles of the project have been finished at a cost of $126.4 million, said project manager Dave Gedeon, of the Federal Highway Administration.

“;This is not just a road project. It's part of building a community,”; said state transportation Director Brennon Morioka. The island is “;one big home rather than two separate regions,”; he said.

Mayor Billy Kenoi echoed the idea. At a time when some people in West Hawaii are resentful of Hilo, the road connects the community as a whole, Kenoi said.

Walter Kunitake, head of the advisory Saddle Road Task Force, said he is happy with the current pace since construction began in 2004. “;It's wonderful, the speed. We're on a roll now,”; he said.

The road bed for another 7-mile segment routed around the Army's Pohakuloa Training Area is already complete.

Paving is expected to start soon after New Year's and to be completed roughly in September.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's representative, Jennifer Goto Sabas, said $30 million is allotted for further construction, but Gedeon said more will be needed.

Sabas emphasized that much of the justification for the project has been military need for access to Pohakuloa.

“;The vast majority of the dollars are defense dollars,”; she said.

That will change to nonmilitary highway dollars as the east and west ends of the road are constructed, Gedeon said, but the funding will still be almost 100 percent federal.

A proposed state project would link the west end of Saddle Road to a new state highway down to the West Hawaii coast. Federal money might also pay for 80 percent of that, Gedeon said.