Project Spotlight: Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway Widening Project, Phase 2

Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway Widening | Big Island, HI

On Aug. 9, 2018, the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation (HDOT) held a dedication ceremony to celebrate the debut of a newly widened 5.2-mile stretch of Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway. It’s not far-fetched to say that cheers rang out across Kailua-Kona that day—residents had been eagerly anticipating the completion of the divided multilane roadway, which runs from Kealakehe Parkway to Keahole Airport Road. And to everyone’s delight, GBI finished the project ahead of schedule, wrapping it up three weeks before the estimated completion date of Aug. 15, 2018.

The scenic, 33-mile-long Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway (also known as Highway 19) provides north-south access between Kailua-Kona and Kawaihae, and is one of the Big Island’s most-traveled roadways—by car, by bicycle, and on foot (in fact, the highway is used for the cycling and running segments of the annual Ironman World Championship). Given an increase in traffic volume over the years, the busiest sections of the two-lane highway had become ill-equipped to handle the load. As a result, widening the road became a top priority for HDOT, which called for a divided four-lane configuration that could accommodate traffic volumes in excess of those projected for the next two decades.

Phase 2 of the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway Widening Project has a long history dating back to its bid opening in July 2008. Since then, a number of Big Island Region managers and engineers—some current, some now retired—have worked on the project. After multiple protests and rebids, the design-build project was finally awarded to GBI, and in July 2010, HDOT gave GBI a notice to proceed with the design. Construction was slated to begin in early 2011, but was delayed by the discovery of unmarked archaeological sites, which required reopening the Section 106 consultation process, as well as the evaluation of Section 4(f) avoidance and mitigation. The interests of several stakeholders, including Native Hawaiian organizations and the National Park Service, needed to be agreed upon to minimize harm to the property. Part of the agreement was narrowing the footprint of the south segment of the project; GBI worked closely with its design team at SSFM International to implement a new design for the area.

In September 2015, GBI broke ground on what would become the largest and most complex HDOT road project in recent history. GBI’s skilled craftsmen widened the 5.2-mile stretch of highway, taking it from two lanes to four—while simultaneously minimizing disruption to the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport, a national park, a harbor, multiple businesses, vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians, and other stakeholders.

GBI employed a team approach with HDOT to address the under-the-microscope experience of daily public relations. GBI’s craftsmen safely brought the design to life by adding two new paved lanes, which called for more than 110,000 tons of asphalt paving. The project also entailed installing six signalized intersections and extensive highway lighting; completing 92 shallow drywells and more than three miles of concrete swales; building five retaining walls to protect the archaeological sites; completing 4.5 miles of new waterlines, approximately two miles of new gravity and force main sewer systems, and 2.5 miles of recycled wastewater line; installing new electrical and communication systems; relocating multiple existing utilities; installing guardrails and median barriers; and adding a‘a lava rock and native plants as landscaping features. All of these tasks were performed while ensuring culturally sensitive improvements were made along the full length of the corridor.

The GBI project team used state-of-the art GPS and a high-precision 3-D system to guide the milling and paving processes, which yielded millions in cost savings. Prior to this project, these high-tech resources had never been used in Hawai‘i.

At approximately $124.2 million, Phase 2 of the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway Widening Project is GBI’s largest completed job to date. Even more importantly, crew members safely logged more than 210,000 hours of labor while reinforcing GBI’s proud reputation of being the contractor of choice for the clients, employees and communities in which we live and work.

And the results are nothing short of impressive. For one thing, Big Island residents and visitors can now enjoy a smoother commute on the expanded roadway. The project also marks a major milestone in the state’s efforts to make improvements to its transportation infrastructure. Given the quality, timeliness, and overall success of the project, it’s very likely GBI will partner with HDOT again in the near future.

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