If you have driven down Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki at night lately — or over the last year and a half — you may have felt some unexpected things: Confusion about which lane you should be in; disorientation amid the maze of orange cones that are supposed to guide you; surprise at the illuminated construction dust clouds; or fear, as you realize that the headlights of cars coming from the other direction are pointed directly at you.
“There are times when it is just dangerous,” says Jessica Worchel, who lives on Waialae Avenue.
In a recent interview with Civil Beat, she said, “If you don’t live in the neighborhood, you wouldn’t even know how many lanes there are.”
From the Kaimuki local’s account of what she has been through as a result of ongoing road work, people who are just driving through the neighborhood should count themselves as lucky.
The Waialae Avenue re-pavement project, which was scheduled to last 18 months, now looks like it will surpass two years.
The slow progress — which has been accompanied by substandard efforts to explain temporary traffic rules, road work and conditions, not to mention the confusing use of traffic cones and flags — has annoyed drivers. But for local residents and businesses, the reaction has run the gamut from bafflement to anger over the project, its duration and cost.
Worchel, who has bought earplugs to block out the nighttime construction noise, has had enough.
“I live on Waialae Ave. between St. Louis Heights and 3rd Ave. and I am directly impacted by the condition of the road on a daily basis. My driveway is on Waialae Ave. and I have no other alternate route in and out of my home,” she wrote in a letter to local elected officials.
That March 17 letter expresses her “extreme frustration and concern” about the public works project on her avenue.
“I cannot escape the atrocious condition of this public works catastrophe and it is impacting my quality of life including my health. The situation is untenable and must be addressed immediately.”
“Beyond my own physical suffering and frustration with the inefficiency is a deep concern for the safety of ALL drivers using Waialae Ave,” she wrote.
There are also practical issues. Worchel says that she and her neighbors did not receive any communication from the city to warn them about road work that might affect them.
“In January 2014, I came home one evening from work at 9 p.m. to find a 4 foot gaping hole to the entrance of my neighbors driveway,” she wrote in the letter. “I went next door to ask them if they had been told that access to their driveway would be completely blocked. They had no idea. How is this acceptable that you would completely block access to someone’s residence and not provide prior notice or warning?”
Workers also “tore the road up between 3rd Ave. and St. Louis Heights. This is the section that connects to my driveway. The road has been left unpaved and there is now 3 inches separating my driveway from the road. I have had to replace 2 tires on my personal car because of the terrible condition of this stretch of road, which has now been left in this condition for two months.”
Worchel notes that after workers removed the pavement, they shifted their efforts to the intersection of St. Louis Heights and Waialae Avenue. “When will they ever complete any portion of the road?”
She went on to ask a question that others in the neighborhood have wondered about: Why not complete work on one stretch of the road before moving on to other parts of it.
The current state of the road, Worchel says, “could be categorized as Third World.”
“This is unacceptable and can be seen as a complete failure by the City & County to complete a public works project using taxpayer’s money,” she wrote.
She has received some responses from the city.
DDC sent responses about her concerns to Councilman Stanley Chang’s office, which then forwarded them on to Worchel.
“My staff and I have probably been asked and answered these questions at least a hundred times over the past 2 years,” DDC wrote in an email to Chang’s office. “Believe me when I say, no one is dragging their feet on this project; both the Contractor and I never envisioned that our assigned staff would have been tied to this project for that amount of time, and there is a cost to both of us.”1
The re-pavement project began in July 2012. The contractor, Jas W. Glover, was supposed to remove about a foot of old pavement and then lay new asphalt along the one mile stretch of road from Fifth Avenue to 17th Avenue, as well as pave about a dozen side streets, according to the contract.
Even though the city says that 70 percent of the work is complete, much of Waialae remains a patchwork of textures and elevations, cracks and potholes.
The original Dec. 23, 2013 completion date is long passed and the city now hopes that the work will be done in July.
Meanwhile, Jas W. Glover has submitted at least six change orders laying out additional work that needs to be done and the added costs, according to Chris Takashige, director of the city’s Department of Design and Construction.
The cost overruns, which haven’t yet been approved by the city, are pegged at over $1 million, he said. This is on top of a 10 percent contingency that was built into the contract — a contingency that has already been used up.
UPDATE The project is now expected to cost $12.5 million, a 30 percent jump from the original cost, according to information from DDC that was forwarded to Worchel in April, a couple weeks after this story was published.
Worchel wants city officials to “publicly place pressure on the construction company, Jas Glover Ltd., to complete this project and hold them accountable for the excessive amount of time and money to complete the project.”
The Waialae Avenue project, which began under former Mayor Peter Carlisle, is one of hundreds of roads throughout Oahu that are being repaved.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell has made it his goal to repave 1,500 lane miles of substandard roads by 2018. Last year, the city reworked close to 400 miles and Takashige said all of the work was done within budget.
But the city completed the easiest roads first and now the more difficult jobs are coming up, such as Beretenia Street, which Takashige said “is going to be a mess from the university to town.”
As for Waialae Avenue, why has it been so hard?
Jas W. Glover, didn’t return Civil Beat’s calls to discuss the street work, but the city has long maintained that there are “soft spots” all along the road.
Officials say there’s a lot of water below the surface of the road, which makes it hard to lay new asphalt. This requires workers to dig even deeper and lay thicker sections of pavement.
“Thus the work appears to be slower as we have been reduced to taking nibbles out of the roadways rather than large bites,” according to the DDC.
The “soft spots” problem was on full display last month when KHON videotaped driver after driver scraping the bottom of their cars near 12th Ave. where the pavement had buckled because workers laid asphalt when the ground was too wet. There was a similar problem near St. Louis Drive.
Nobody knows for sure what the source of the moisture is, says Takashige. But his latest theory is that it’s the result of water flowing down from the steep hills mauka of Waialae.
Takashige called the working conditions on and around Waialae Avenue “extreme.”
For many residents, what is worse than the delays is the way the construction is being done.
During the day, the road sometimes looks like a classroom chalkboard. The contractor has painted temporary white lane markers, as well as scrawled numbers and letters throughout the lanes so that it resembles a giant algebra equation.
The markers often get erased by the many passing tires, leaving drivers unsure of the proper boundaries. And at Fifth Avenue, there is a Diamond Head-bound lane that just stops in the middle of the street, leaving surprised drivers scrambling to quickly merge into the neighboring lane. Sometimes there is an orange cone there, apparently to warn drivers, and sometimes there isn’t.
As far as traffic management is concerned, Takashige says that Jas W. Glover is required to follow a strict traffic control plan.
“If they deviate from that plan, then we would have to catch them and scold them in writing,” he said. “If it’s really bad, we can fine them and withhold money.”
He said he wasn’t aware of any formal actions against the contractor.
For Worchel, the drawn-out construction is not only disrupting her sleep, but also undermining her health, she says.
Her “house has been inundated with dust and particles and I have suffered from eye irritations and allergies in my home, and wake up at night with trouble breathing,” she wrote in the letter to the city.
She remains hopeful for the neighborhood, at least if the construction comes to an end. “Kaimuki has the potential to be a thriving, walkable neighborhood that supports community activity and engagement.”
“As it stands, the dust and debris from the unpaved road make it hazardous to even walk down the street,” wrote Worchel.
“As cars drive by or when the wind is blowing, debris blows into one’s eyes, nose, and mouth making it extremely uncomfortable and potentially dangerous to simply walk down the street.”
Regardless of the state of the avenue, the unnamed DDC’s branch chief says there is no choice but to forge on with the roadwork in written remarks to Chang’s office. “When speaking to the public about unanticipated conditions that are encountered (by workers) I often remind them about the pre-existing condition of Waialae Avenue and ask whether left alone; do they think it would have gotten better or worse? The obvious answer is worse; therefore there is no question that Waialae required rehabilitation,” the branch chief wrote to Chang’s office.
“Taking it a step further, now the work has begun and you encounter unanticipated soil conditions; you have two choices: stop and wait until another time; or look for an alternate solution and additional funds to continue the work.”