Friday, January 12, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 12, 2001

State to doll up its Kahekili 'monstrosity' again

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward Bureau

KANEOHE — The state plans to spend $2.5 million to beautify the Kahekili Highway between Kulukeoe Street and Haiku Road, an area some critics have called a "concrete monstrosity" since a widening and improvement project was completed in 1997.

The state will try again to beautify the half-mile, six-lane stretch of Kahekili Highway between Kulukeoe Street and Haiku Road. Previous attempts have not been successful.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Following numerous complaints and several failed attempts to soften the sterile concrete corridor, the state Department of Transportation is suggesting a facelift for the concrete walls and a minimal landscape plan. Community suggestions are being sought for the project, for which the federal government will provide 80 percent of the money.

"We're doing the best we can with what we have," Henry Kennedy, DOT project manager, told the Kahaluu Neighborhood Board on Wednesday.

The half-mile stretch of six-lane highway offers just three small pockets for landscaping on one side, while lights in the middle of the road restrict large plantings but do offer a place where planter boxes can be installed for foliage.

Constraints on the widening project during the planning stages contributed to the present problem, Kennedy said.

"They wanted to keep the corridor narrow to avoid taking anybody's home or back yard," he said. When traffic noise became an issue, the state decided to make the wall higher.

Landscaping was 'non-issue'

"When we did the planning, landscaping was a non-issue," Kennedy explained.

He said ideas under consideration include refinishing the walls, perhaps putting up a rock facade.

Kaneohe Neighborhood Board member Philip Mowrey called the highway a scar in the community that encourages speeding and running red lights. The narrow sidewalk is a no-man?s land, forcing pedestrians to hug the wall as cars race past, said Mowrey, adding that the road design is at fault.

"When you build something that looks like a freeway, you can't blame people for driving like it's a freeway," he said.

Mowrey said he's glad the state has come to the community for its suggestions because making the highway beautiful won't be enough. The state must make it safe as well.

He suggested narrowing the lanes by one foot to increase landscape and sidewalk spaces.

But the solutions will be dictated by how the road will be used in the future, he said.

"If the state wants to maintain the idea that eventually it will be a freeway, then our options are limited," Mowrey said. "If the state sees that the community does not want that to be a freeway then we can look at other things."

John Reppun, a Kahaluu board member, suggested buying the land adjacent to the road, tearing down the walls and looking at possibilities rather than constraints.

Previous beautification attempts

Since the project was completed in 1997 the state has made several attempts to beautify the highway. First the state planted vines on the walls and some 300 plants along the road. Most vines were inadvertently destroyed, and the survivors grew too slowly to have any impact.

In 1998 palm trees were planted on the slopes near Kaneohe District Park, but 10 of them were stolen and five more uprooted. The only success has been a project by youths from Olomana School, who planted 100 pine trees and bougainvillea on the opposite slope that year.

The Kaneohe Outdoor Circle has been critical of the widening project from the beginning because it lacked a landscape plan. Outdoor Circle president Mary Steiner said members will be involved in the planning. The state also plans other public meetings to solicit input.

"We're really glad that they're finally moving forward with this beautification," Steiner said. "We're anxious to participate in the discussion."

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