Alternative Access Into Lower Puna Vital

By EILEEN O’HARA, JOY SAN BUENAVENTURA and RUSSELL RUDERMAN
Originally published in the Hawaii Tribune Herald

It has come to our attention that the Hawaiian Paradise Park’s Homeowners Association created a survey to consider what is referred to in the 2008 Puna Community Development Plan as the Puna Makai Alternative Route. The idea of the PMAR is to create an access into Lower Puna which is makai (toward the ocean) of Highway 130. There has never been a consensus on what or where that roadway would be.

In 2004, before the Puna CDP, a plan surfaced that looked at linking Railroad Avenue in Hilo to extend all the way to Nanawale along the old railroad right of way. At the time it was being discussed, it called for a 120-foot right of way large enough to build a four-lane highway. The cost was estimated at $280 million to create such a highway. This plan has not been actively pursued by anyone in the public or private sectors.

Plans only move forward when there is political will and funding. In the 1970s, a plan was hatched to extend a shoreline road from Hilo, along what is now Beach Road in HPP, all the way to Kapoho. As we can see in retrospect, that plan did not have support and never happened.

What has been discussed in the past five years is the creation of an alternative route from Keaau to HPP, a distance of approximately 3-4 miles. Some see it as a bicycle and pedestrian path that could be opened in emergencies for vehicular traffic when Highway 130 is closed because of accidents and flooding. Others envision a two-lane road that would allow commuters from HPP to reach Keaau and get almost to Highway 11 without having to enter Highway 130 from one of HPP’s main boulevards.

In 2013, our state representative from District 4 was successful in getting $15 million to plan a right of way for this 3- to 4-mile stretch from Keaau to HPP. The amount requested was based on an estimate from the director of the county Department of Public Works for the costs to engineer and build a small connector road. While the appropriation was approved by the state House, the language in the request was changed at the last minute and the money was instead awarded to the state Department of Transportation to make improvements on Highway 130.

Thus, even that effort did not advance a plan for the PMAR. It should be noted that Shipman, which claims ownership of much of the old railroad right of way, continues to resist use of this pre-existing road across its properties. At this point, nothing more has been done to advance this plan other than meetings with relevant agencies.

In the meantime, the HPPOA is supporting a survey based on the following misinformation. The survey states a two-lane road will be built through the middle of HPP — not to HPP — and the proposed road through HPP will require seizure of privately held lots and roads. Furthermore, the survey states that the mayor, the council and the state Senate and House all are taking action on a plan to build this highway through the middle of HPP.

While that isn’t the truth, the news of this survey has at least invited discussion on Facebook. It is unfortunate the discussion is premised on misinformation. Since the survey instrument provides false information and contains leading questions, and is being selectively hand-delivered to certain residences in HPP, it will be difficult to view the results as valid.

It should be noted that a valid survey of HPP residents recently was conducted. That polling had more than 170 respondents and indicated HPP residents overwhelmingly support an alternative route to Highway 130, and 60 percent of the respondents thought the railroad right of way was the best option.

As three of the four government officials named in this recent HPP survey, we want the public, especially lot owners in HPP, to know that there is no plan being concocted behind closed doors to build a highway across HPP. There is no political will for this idea and no money to throw at such a plan.

We do support continuing the conversations between the state, county and relevant landowners to develop an alternative access to HPP from Keaau. This effort isn’t being driven by the needs of HPP alone. There are more than 25,000 people residing in Lower Puna who need an alternative access for times when Highway 130 is closed. While we’re all inconvenienced by such closures, it also affects life and death situations as ambulances cannot enter and exit Lower Puna. Police and fire are unable to respond in a timely manner, as well.

Developing an alternative access into Lower Puna is more than a nicety; it has become a pressing public health and safety issue.

Eileen O’Hara is the representative of Hawaii County Council District 4. Rep. Joy San Buenaventura serves state House District 4. Sen. Russell Ruderman serves state Senate District 2.

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