Friday, May 28, 2010

Saddle Road: From 15 to 55 miles per hour for $100 million

It is rare to see a major road project in Hawaii -- unless you are on Maui where the transportation committee chairs for both House and Senate come from.

The re-alignment and upgrade of the Saddle Road is a major project. For me this is a bittersweet experience. As a holder of a (now expired) car racing license, the challenge that was the Saddle Road in the 1990s is no more. The twists, turns and elevation changes made it a challenge even at 25 miles per hour! But having fun with a challenging drive is not an excuse for maintaining a road in a primitive condition.

When the project is completed, the benefit to the Big Island commuters between the Hilo and Kona sides will be grand. Major savings in travel time and in safety. Here's a March 2010 photo of the construction.

The comparison of Saddle Road on Big Island with Kaukonahua Road on Oahu is an interesting example of facts and choices. Kaukonahua Road near the North Shore of Oahu is a short, winding stretch of rural highway that is vital to the Wailua and Haleiwa communities.

This fun one mile of road (which is not scary or unsafe compared, for example, to the Road to Hana or Oahu's Tantalus Round Top Drive) manages to be the locus of about one dead motorist per year. So on one hand we have one mile of winding road that kills roughly 20 people every 20 years (see end note) and on the other hand we have over 22 miles of winding road that kills one or two persons every 20 years. And we choose to spend over $100 million to straighten the second one!

Other than that, the new Saddle Road is a phenomenal improvement in roadway alignment.

From this...

To this...

I could not get a complete picture of the phases and costs of the Saddle Road project. I found two milestones dated May 2007 and March 2009. Here is the respective information and the website for the project.

May 2007
-- The Federal Highway Administration-Central Federal Lands Highway Division (CFLHD), in cooperation with the Hawaii Department of Transportation and the Department of the Army awarded a $59 million contract to Goodfellow Brothers, Inc. of Waikoloa, Hawaii for construction of the first 16 miles of the new Saddle Road. The plans and specifications for the project were developed by Okahara & Associates, Inc. of Hilo, Hawaii.

March 2009
-- A $34.6 million construction contract to Goodfellow Brothers, Inc of Waikoloa, Hawaii for grading and paving of a new section of Saddle Road from mile marker 35 to 41.5. The contract was awarded on October 24, 2008; construction officially began on November 19 and is expected to be completed by late summer, 2009. Upon completion, 22-miles of the 48-mile long Saddle Road route will have been upgraded to modern standards and opened to public traffic.

Endnote: Recent Kaukonahua Road crashes
  • May 1, 2010 -- Crash on Kaukonahua Road kills one woman, injures another
  • Oct 12, 2009 -- Fatal motorcycle crash on Kaukonahua Road
  • Apr 12, 2009 -- Elderly Man Killed on Kaukonahua Road