Kahekili landscaping delayed once again
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer
The state needs to come up with an additional $512,000, without any help from the federal government, before work can begin on a long-delayed project to beautify Kahekili Highway in Kane'ohe, officials said this week.
Nearly two years after the state Transportation Department signed a $2.5 million contract to begin the beautification work, the construction remains on hold and likely won't get started until at least next year.
The problem: Change orders the state requested soon after signing a contract with the T. Iida Contracting company. Those contract changes violated at least the spirit of bidding guidelines for projects involving federal funds, according to the local head of the Federal Highway Administration, which has told the state it won't pay its usual 80 percent share of the extra work.
"The scope of the work changed so much from the original plans authorized by our office that it didn't meet our standards. We would like to see the whole project rebid in some fashion," said Abe Wong, Hawai'i division administrator for the FHWA.
Instead, the state plans to pay for the changes on its own or figure out a way to complete the work with existing money, DOT spokesman Scott Ishikawa said. "We're looking for more funding within our department to pay for the work," he said.
Kahekili's lack of landscaping has been a sore point with Windward residents since at least 1995, when the state began a $27.2 million highway widening project that included concrete walls up to 14 feet high on both sides of the road and a median composed of concrete barriers.
"It's so unsightly my wife doesn't want anything to do with it. She makes me drive out of the way to avoid it whenever possible," said Rom Duran, a Kane'ohe resident since 1959.
Many Windward drivers felt particularly slighted at the time because a just-completed widening of Kalaniana'ole Highway in East Honolulu offered extensive landscaping and other aesthetic improvements that were not included in the Kahekili work. DOT officials at the time said there was not enough room in the median to plant trees or other landscaping improvements.
The wide lanes and sterile look of the highway also contributed to a speeding and traffic safety problem in the area that passes by several established subdivisions, residents said. "It's a freeway with traffic lights," said Kane'ohe resident Philip Mowrey. The speed limit on the road is 35 mph.
Since at least 2001, the state has been studying ways to change the look and feel of the six-lane road between Likelike Highway and Ha'iku Road.
After saying changes would be made and seeking community input on the design, the state announced a beautification plan that included installation of a landscaped median, planting vines along the mauka wall and creation of a stucco-like texture on other walls that were built as noise buffers. A contract to do the work was signed in November 2003, state records show.
Before work could proceed, the state decided that it had to make several changes to the contract.
The principal problem was a provision in the contract that would have allowed the contractor to shut down one lane of the highway in either direction 24 hours a day for the duration of the work, Ishikawa said.
"This would have reduced the highway's traffic flow capacity by half in both directions and would result in a gridlock during the peak-hour traffic," Ishikawa said. Additional money is needed for traffic measures that will stretch out the project duration, he said.
Ishikawa also said many construction costs have risen since the contract bids were opened in March 2003. Those will have to be absorbed by the state, he said.
The state had been told about the possible problems before the contract was sent out to bid, Wong said. "I think they just rushed it at the end of a fiscal year," he said.
Wong said the federal agency still plans to pay its 80 percent share of the original $2.5 million contract but won't pay anything for the additional work the state is seeking, even though it probably would have been eligible for funding if it had been included in the original contract.
Residents and elected officials complained this week that they've been mostly left in the dark about the beautification efforts.
"I was in a meeting with DOT last week and asked what was happening with the Kahekili beautification. They just said they have a plan and moved on to other things," said Rep. Colleen Meyer, R-47th (Ha'iku, Kahalu'u, La'ie).
"We haven't heard anything from DOT in a long time," said Mowrey, an architect who was part of a local task force that recommended landscaping changes to DOT in 2001.
Ishikawa said the state hopes to find the extra money within the department and begin work next year.
"I'm really pleased to hear that the project is moving forward again after all these years," said Mary Steiner, chief executive officer of The Outdoor Circle. "It's going to add to the beautification of Kahekili."
Duran wishes the DOT would just get on with it.
"They should just go ahead and do what they can with the money have. Anything would be better than what we have now," he said.
Reach Mike Leidemann at email@example.com.