Homes fall victim to H-1 widening at Waimalu
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer
The state is spending more than $4 million to move 10 property owners who are in the path of a planned widening of H-1 Freeway at Waimalu. It's the largest highway relocation project since Kalaniana'ole Highway was widened through East Honolulu in the 1980s.
"It's quite a big project. We haven't had anything like it in a long time," said Mike Amura, property manager for the Transportation Department's Highways Division. "We generally don't like to build through a residential area, but sometimes you can't avoid it."
Residents say the moves will strike at the heart of the Waimalu Gardens subdivision, built in the early 1970s.
"It's hard to break up the neighborhood," said Terry Tabarejo, one of the property owners being displaced. "You live next to someone your whole life, you grow up with other kids, you get old with them. Then suddenly you have to get out."
Amura said eight of the homeowners had agreed to property settlements between $200,000 and $300,000, based on the appraised value of their homes. Most are moving to new neighborhoods.
Tabarejo and one other homeowner have not been able to find alternative housing for the price the state is offering.
"The money is OK if you want to move out to 'Ewa or Kapolei, but I want to stay here in Pearl City, and I can't find anything worthwhile for what they are offering," Tabarejo said. "If I have to go live in 'Ewa, you know how bad traffic is?"
Traffic is the reason for the widening project. State officials say more than 220,000 vehicles use the freeway through Pearl City every day. The project is designed to add an extra 'ewa-bound lane for 1.5 miles of the freeway from Kaonohi Street to the Pearl City off-ramp, which often backs up traffic onto the freeway.
"I understand we've got to move for the greater good, but it's tough on those of us who are suffering," Tabarejo said.
Waimalu Grace Brethren Church Associate Pastor Ray Dennis said the move of the 250-person congregation would be hardest on older residents who find security in having a church in the neighborhood, and more than 150 young people who participate in the church's daily recreational activities.
On the other hand, the move will allow the congregation to grow in a new area served by relatively few churches, he said. The church has bought a 2-acre parcel and plans to more than double the size of its preschool, which now serves about 50 children.
"This has been a good, sheltered environment for us, but maybe we needed to be stretched a little bit," Dennis said. "It's a real opportunity to help people."
The church has been built on land leased from the state since the early 1980s and is being fully compensated for the improvements it has made to the land, Amura said.
If the other homeowners are unable to find new housing before construction begins, the state will pay for them to live in temporary housing for as long as a year, he said. Both the purchase price and temporary housing are paid by the federal government, he said.
Earlier, the state altered construction plans that would have required moving about 20 more property owners, Amura said.
Work on the $43 million highway project is scheduled to start in April and last 18 months. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Waipi'o Grace Brethren Church are set for September.