It’s a Monday morning, the start of another workweek, and I am making a left turn in my Toyota Yaris at the corner of St. Louis Drive and Waialae Avenue.
Heading in the Koko Head direction on Waialae, I see the rising sun filtered through a brown haze.
“Whoa,” I’m thinking, “the vog is awfully thick today.”
But it’s not volcanic emissions that obscure my view of traffic; it’s all the dust and dirt kicked up from road construction that began over a year and a half ago on Waialae.
The roadwork was supposed to wrap up last month. Now, the city says it will take until June, putting the project six months behind schedule.
I know that most construction projects in Honolulu are never completed early or on time. But the Waialae work is frustrating to a whole lot of people that depend on this major arterial.
The avenue starts in the east at Kahala Mall and it ends in the west at Market City. Some of the repaving appears completed, noticeably on the mauka lanes of Waialae as you exit H-1 just after leaving Kalanaianole Highway. But much remains a rocky mess, as painful to car tires and shocks as a’a is to bare feet.
“When will they complete the roadwork on Waialae Avenue?” a reader asked the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Kokua Line last week. “It seems like they tear it up more than they repair it, and now it’s like driving across a lava field complete with skylights (potholes) that swallow your wheels and throw your car out of alignment — and worse.”
Kokua Line’s June Watanabe responded: “The city’s contractor has continued to hit ‘soft spots’ all along Waialae Avenue, ‘something we were not expecting,’ said Chris Takashige, director of the city Department of Design and Construction. ‘We’ve accelerated their work as best as we can by providing longer work hours, but we are still falling behind our intended schedule.'”
Watanabe reports that the $9.3 million project began in July 2012 and called for removing 11 inches of old pavement before laying new asphalt. Those pesky “soft spots,” however, “caused by rain or water leaking from pipes seeping into the roadway,” mean that workers “have had to take out more subsurface material, then build it up inches at a time in a time-consuming process.”
The additional work has added $110,000 to the project, and more contract changes are expected.
It’s not the first time someone has complained about Waialae. Four months before Watanabe’s column, KITV reported that there had been complaints for years about “the headache of driving over some nasty potholes.”
It’s not just motorists that are upset.
“People want to ride their bikes, but they don’t feel safe,” said one bicyclist.
Chris Takashige was interviewed for that story, too, and he mentioned the “soft spots,” possibly caused by a broken water line (the Board of Water Supply said that wasn’t the case) or rainwater.
Waialae Avenue, Jan. 18, 2014.
The Waialae repaving is a big project. KITV reported in August 2012 that the work also includes “driveway and bus pad reconstruction; adjustment of utility manholes, boxes, covers and street survey monuments; catch basin reconstruction; and installation of a grade adjustment curb.”
Honolulu City Council members Ann Kobayashi and Stanley Chang increased the city’s budget to pay for the work, described by Chang as “long overdue.”
Waialae has had other problems, adding to commuter woes.
In November 2011, The Gas Company performed emergency repair on its underground utility pipeline on 5th Avenue near Waialae; drivers were advised to take an alternate route. In August 2012, streets were affected by sewer work at 3rd Avenue and Waialae. In April 2013, crews spent a night repairing a leak in an 8-inch water main on Waialae, allowing for only one lane to remain open between Kapahulu Avenue and 1st Avenue .
Yes, we have aging infrastructure. But there is also the matter of bike lanes.
A KITV report in September 2011 said a lane of Waialae was closed off for three days to simulate the impact of a striped bike lane on traffic. As part of the study, the city temporarily eliminated street parking on the mauka side. Businesses complained.
In a followup to the traffic study, a KITV report in October 2012 said the city decided to install bike lanes on Waialae. Under the plan, the three morning town-bound lanes would be reduced to two and the afternoon contraflow lane would be removed to make room for bike lanes between St. Louis Drive and 10th Avenue.
“Other parts of Waialae Avenue would have sharrows, or shared lane markings, to remind drivers and riders they must share the road,” KITV reported. “Bikers were excited about the changes, but many residents who live nearby were not.”
I support bike lanes. But I’m worried about the possible impact on a street I use every day.
My first Honolulu apartment was on Waialae. I shared it with my two brothers when I was going to graduate school at UH Manoa. I rode my bike every day, fearing for my life and favoring, probably illegally, the sidewalks.
I have lived and worked many places on Oahu, but for some reason or another I keep finding my way back to Waialae. Civil Beat’s office is located at 10th and Waialae, just above Central Pacific Bank.
My mechanic is Alan Nakamura of Kaimuki Auto Repair. I get my hair cut by Harry Ortiz at Paul Marie Salon. I taught for a spell at Chaminade. I used to buy guitar accessories at Harry’s Music (the old one, not the new one next to McDonald’s). I used to eat at Colombia Inn, before it closed. I like the No. 5 Pomegranate Smoothie at Jewel or Juice. I occasionally shop at Goodwill.
Waialae Avenue is a bustling route, for vehicles and pedestrians.
There are three Thai restaurants on Waialae, two Vietnamese, two (possibly three) Japanese, one Chinese, a couple of barbecue joints, one Zippy’s, one Longs Drugs, one Foodland, one Boston Style Pizza, one Big City Diner, one-and-a-half Mexican eateries, two Italian restaurants, two hardware stores, two Times supermarkets, three self-storage facilities, four banks, a bar named Salt, a fine dining space named Town and another named 3660 On the Rise, and — taiko drum roll, please — Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors, where one will find the best poke bowl in town.
There are public and private schools along Waialae, a park, a basketball court, tennis courts, a rec center, three exits onto H-1 going west and none going east. We’ve got a surf shop and a head shop. We’ve got the Aina Haina Pet Hospital that is miles away from Aina Haina. We’ve got Kahala Mall. We’ve got two art deco signs above empty buildings that read “Venus” and “Queen.” And every December we have the best Christmas parade in town.
We are Waialae. But our main drag, as KITV reported in March 2013, is a “Failed” road. That’s from the city’s own study, which evaluated Oahu roadways on the following scale: Good, Satisfactory, Fair, Poor, Very Poor, Serious and Failed.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he is committed to repaving Honolulu streets, and he appears to have made progress. In October 2013 KITV said the city had paved 317 lane miles since January 2017 — “17 more than its annual promise.”
But that same report acknowledged that the repaving wasn’t going so well on some streets, including — surprise! — Waialae Avenue. Apparently, it has something to do with — here it comes — “soft spots.” That’s according to the beleaguered Chris Takashige, who KITV interviewed.
I’m starting to think Caldwell has something against Waialae, like Gov. Chris Christie and Fort Lee, New Jersey. The mayor’s probably peeved at Nick Grube’s reports on Honolulu Hale.
But then, Nick reminded me that the mayor’s wife, Donna Tanoue, has a 10 percent interest in Park Center Building, a family owned commercial office building at 3539 Waialae Avenue
OK, Mr. Mayor: My apologies. But, won’t you do something for the friendly folks on Waialae Avenue? Even the ones you’re not related to?
VIDEO: Civil Beat Chief Photographer PF Bentley took a drive on Waialae Avenue with a GoPro video camera mounted on his truck to come up with this (literally) street-level view.