VIDEO by David Corrigan
The draft supplemental environmental impact statement for a long awaited west-side Saddle Road alignment was digested by residents of the Big Island on Thursday evening.
Residents met project officials at the NELHA Gateway Center as the sun set over Kona, in order to provide comment on the EIS, ask questions about the project, and give all the related maps and plans a closer look.
Most of the comments provided publicly were in favor of the road improvement, saying it would help create a faster corridor from one end of the island to another. Many expressed heartfelt praise for the safety improvements.
The supplemental environmental impact statement was needed after an army land purchase forced a new road alignment to be redrawn. The proposed new alignment for this portion of the road – known as Section I – extends from Mamalahoa Highway (SR 190) near Milepost 53 to Milepost 41, and will make up the west end of Saddle Road.
The west end of the infamous road, known around the islands as a scenic but dangerous shortcut (relatively speaking) from Hilo to Kona, is regarded as the section of Saddle Road that is in the worst shape.
Sections II and III of Saddle Road, between Mileposts 8.5 and 41, have already been completed or are advancing towards completion along the alignments identified in the 1999 Final EIS for the entire project. Section IV is currently in final design, leaving Section I as the last piece planned for construction.
Dave Gedeon of the Federal Highways Administration gave a quick overview of the entire Saddle Road project before the meeting on Thursday. In this video: Gedeon, who was involved in initial road improvement discussions two decades ago, goes through the timeline section by section, and points out the Army acquired Keamuku parcel in 2006.
In the second video, Geometrician consultant Ron Terry said there will be no impact on Hawaiian burial sites, and reported that there were no findings of unexploded ordinance or depleted uranium. At the EIS hearing n Hilo, some residents expressed concern about DU, a result of military firing at the Pohakuloa Training Area many years ago. Public comments are shown in the third video of this series.
Funding for the project is not yet available, yet many who have been following the project have faith that it will have the support it needs, especially from prominent project supporters like U.S. Senator Dan Inouye.