Many unsure of span's purpose
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Leeward O'ahu Writer
By Will Hoover
NANAKULI — Folks in these parts are still trying to make sense of a new and imposing $2 million concrete bridge that blocks the ocean sunset view from Farrington Highway, goes no place and currently serves as an elaborate fishing platform and skateboard ramp for local kids.
Oceanside of Farrington Highway, between Nanakuli and Laumania avenues, the city and county bridge looks out of place, a massive structure that looms some 12 feet above the virtually hidden road-level Farrington Highway bridge a mere 20 paces away.
The gray two-lane edifice is not part of Farrington Highway. It leads to a short side street in one direction, and the Nanakuli Beach parking lot in the other.
Some residents, who have complained loudly to officials, are referring to the nearly completed Nanakuli Stream Bridge as "Eyesore Bridge."
Neal Barrett, 47, who lives nearby on Keaulana Avenue, marvels at how tough it has been in the past to get the government to build anything in Nanakuli.
"And when they finally do, it's a bridge that doesn't go anywhere," he said.
Added Jake Kaiu, 22, who says the trestle's incline makes for pretty good skateboarding: "A lot of people are saying, 'Why'd they build the bridge?' "
A large sign that creaks and sways next to the tenth of a mile span explains that it's part of the "Wai'anae Coast Emergency Alternate Route, Nanakuli Makai Road, Phase 2" — but people here aren't sure how that would work, and they aren't much enamored with the thing in any case.
"This is another Band-Aid solution that doesn't heal the problem," said Cathy Momoa, 45, who lives on Pohakunui Avenue, the street the new bridge leads to that's parallel to Farrington Highway. "We need a road of our own going in and out of Nanakuli and Wai'anae. We need an H-4."
The years-in-the-works concept behind the emergency alternative route was to provide a patchwork escape for trapped motorists whenever the 17-mile, four-lane Farrington Highway — the only road in and out of the Wai'anae Coast — comes to a standstill.
And standstills on this road happen all too frequently because of car wrecks, water main breaks, and once, for 13 hours, an armed hostage standoff.
Even as Momoa was speaking, four vehicles on the highway collided right in front of her home.
"See," she said, unfazed by the multiple fender bender in which no one was hurt. "That goes on all the time. I've seen death out here. I've seen motorcycles and trucks fly through the air. I've seen it all."
The circuitous emergency access road — some portions of which have yet to be built — was to run continuously from Nanakuli to Makaha, primarily over linked up public and private back roads.
But a hitch in the grand scheme came when those who own or control two of the planned sections recently balked at being part of the plan.
Honolulu City Councilman, Todd Apo, who represents the coast and who inherited the alternative route problem from a previous administration, is confident an agreement can be reached with the company that recently purchased part of one of those sections, a straight-of-way north of Farrington known as Pa'akea Road.
That proposed route involves a yet-to-be-built extension the landowners believe will greatly increase traffic, and with it, the company's liability, Apo said. The owners oppose the use of the route on a continuous basis, he said.
"However, if that new section is only going to be open during an emergency, then they (company officials) don't have a problem," he said.
"Assuming that the Pa'akea connection is open only for emergencies, you would be able to use the emergency access route from basically Kahe Point all the way to Wai'anae. You just wouldn't be able to get from Wai'anae to Makaha."
Apo and others agree it's doubtful that a deal can be reached on a second section of land that would provide an alternative route between Wai'anae and Makaha.
Apo said he understands that the bridge, which was built in half a year, comes as an unpleasant visual surprise, but he said since it's 90 percent finished, not much can be done.
"The only option at this point, given that it's built, is to take it down," he said.
A 'WHITE ELEPHANT'
State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, who represents the Wai'anae Coast, says the city went a bridge too far in planning the mess.
The Harris administration, "never thought it all the way through. They just wanted to tell the community, 'You take the garbage dumps, you take everything else nobody wants, so we're giving you this.' "
Hanabusa said the city failed to make it clear to the community that the new bridge, unlike the older Farrington Highway bridge, would be intrusive because its designers were required to adhere to modern federal flood and safety specifications.
She said residents — in their desire to have some kind of fix to endless road closure nightmares — never fully understood what the bridge would look like or that the patchwork route would not be an alternative to Farrington, but one used only during emergencies.
And now, said Jo Jordan, who heads the parks committee for the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board, with the whole alternate route concept uncertain, it's questionable when, or if, the bridge will be used for its intended purpose.
Jordan's also not convinced the Pa'akea Road issue will be satisfactorily resolved.
"So, we're back to the drawing board on the Makaha section, and in the meantime, our Pa'akea location has gone up in smoke," Jordan said.
As things stand, unless a bottleneck causing Farrington to be shut down falls within the half-mile stretch next to the bridge, the new trestle is worthless as an escape hatch, Jordan said.
"This is a white elephant that we'll probably use once in the next five years," she said.
Reach Will Hoover at email@example.com.