State to give Makapu'u roadway $10M facelift
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer
By Suzanne Roig
MAKAPU'U — Scott Larson drives around the rocky, steep cliff of Makapu'u Point every day.
He glances at the paved parking lots that now keep people hiking to the lighthouse off busy Kalaniana'ole Highway.
Above the roadway, he sees the wire mesh that is anchored to the cliff to keep rocks from falling. Then he notes the erosion-curbing concrete pillars stacked along the ocean near his office at the Oceanic Institute.
But he knows more needs to be done to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians.
"I've read the environmental assessment on this and now that I know the road is slipping off the cliff, I try not to think about it as I drive to and from work," he said, adding, "It's the shortest way to my home and work."
The three projects along Larson's route were done in the past four years along this winding, coastal stretch, which opened 75 years ago. Now the state is poised to start another upgrade to ensure rocks don't fall on the mauka side of the highway.
The City Council Zoning Committee last week approved the state's request for a Special Management Area permit for the project, and the request will go before the full City Council on Jan. 24.
The permit would allow the state to move forward with a plan to carve away part of the mauka hillside, dig out a catchment basin, bury utilities underground and shore up the roadway between the lookout and Sea Life Park.
Transportation officials still need to obtain a state land use permit and finish the design, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa. The $10 million upgrade could begin in 2008 and will be paid for in part with federal money.
The first work began in 2002, after volleyball-sized rocks fell from the cliff, blocking the road. One rock shattered a motorist's windshield.
The state now proposes hauling away all loose rock from the cliff between Sea Life Park and the Upper Makapu'u Lookout, down to the hard rock, or pali, and then terracing the area below. A rock catchment also would be built.
"We're concerned about the rockslide problem," Ishikawa said. "We did the netting as an emergency project, now we're trying to finish the project.
"We want to take care of the problem of rockfalls before it becomes a real problem."
About the same time the emergency project was under way, the state began work on the Makapu'u lookout and hiking trails. At a cost of $5 million, the state built two parking lots, thereby taking cars off the side of the highway, and placed utility lines underground along the Ka Iwi Scenic Wilderness area.
The state purchased the wilderness area — the scene of numerous battles over development since the 1970s — from Kamehameha Schools for $12.8 million.
Emergency repairs also were needed along Kalaniana'ole Highway, near the Oceanic Institute and the Makai Pier, to shore up the edge of the road and to realign the highway after heavy rains washed away soil.
The $1.5 million project jammed up traffic in both directions for a mile while the pillars were placed, because only one lane could move at a time.
Kerry O'Connor, who recently stopped to look at the surf at Makapu'u, said he's glad the state is spending money to make the area safer and nicer.
"Those rocks are going to come down one day," O'Connor said. "They better fix it now, as a preventative thing, rather than waiting until something happens. It's dangerous along this whole coastline."
Robbie Perriera, a Waimanalo resident, said that over the years she's noticed the roadway sagging on the ocean side as she makes her twice-weekly drives to and from Hawai'i Kai.
"You can definitely see the road sinking," Perriera said. "You have to do something or all this will fall."
Leo Bima, a Honolulu resident, was driving the coastline with visiting relatives. They stopped at Makapu'u to watch the waves.
"It's really nice what the state has done around here," Bima said. "The road is so much safer now that the cars are not parked along the side of the road."
The work includes putting utility lines underground, replacing guardrails and installing wire-mesh catchments for rocks.
Reach Suzanne Roig at email@example.com.