Residents along Farrington Highway from Kaena point to Makaha Beach will see lane closures, a weekend traffic detour and at least one day where the highway is completely closed while the Hawaii Department of Transportation replaces two bridges near Makaha Beach Park.

It’s a change from the original plan to place a temporary bypass road mauka of the highway and onto the beach during construction of the two bridges. After public pushpack and protests, HDOT scrapped the planned bypass road. Instead one lane on Farrington Highway will be intermittently closed so steel bridges can be constructed on the side of the highway. Once the steel bridges are complete, the original bridge will be demolished and the new bridge placed on the day of the road closures.

HDOT hopes to announce road closure dates in the next month.

“We’ll schedule them out far in advance to ensure that everybody can plan for them,” Ed Sniffen, HDOT’s deputy director for highways, said at a Wednesday night meeting.

A long detour will be available for one of the bridge replacements, but the other bridge replacement will require a complete shutdown, cutting off anyone living between Kaena Point and Makaha Beach Park from the rest of the island. Sniffen said the closures will be on a weekend day where there’s no planned surfing competitions or other community events. He said an emergency services area will be set up on the Westside and HDOT is working with the city and the military to coordinate logistics in case of emergency.

The construction project is scheduled to begin in August.

The new steel bridges are designed to last 35 to 40 years, and are cheaper than the department’s original plan to build reinforced concrete bridges, which last 75 to 100 years. This is also in response to community feedback. Sign-wavers at a March protest were worried that investing in long-lasting bridges would delay their efforts to completely reroute Farrington Highway around Makaha Beach Park.

Sniffen also announced Wednesday that HDOT will apply for a federal grant to fund a feasibility study to approximate costs, required permits and timeframes for a realignment project.

“The community was understandably upset at the first version,” Pieter Meinster, a Westside resident and former Waianae Neighborhood Board member said at the meeting. “I really appreciate you guys coming up with this alternate solution and the fact you’re also talking actively about realignment … is definitely inspiring some confidence.”

One of two bridges HDOT plans to replace in the coming year in Makaha. Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2021

Rerouting The Highway

Farrington Highway cuts through the middle of the park, and beachgoers have to cross the busy road to access the parking lot, bathrooms and boat storage. The community has been pushing for a solution for decades, and many point to a community plan from 1998 that calls for the highway to be rerouted around the park.

In 2013 activists secured a victory when the Honolulu City Council voted to fund a feasibility study on the project. Although the study was due in 2016, it was only 10% complete when the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization decided to cancel the study last month. About $120,000 had been spent on the study and OMPO decided to reallocate the remaining $402,268 to a transportation study of Ala Moana.

“The cancellation of the OMPO funding wasn’t at DOT’s request, but it was supported by DOT,” Sniffen said. “We supported it because if we did the realignment study and we didn’t have any funds to push the project forward in the future … we’d have to redo the study anyway.”

Sniffen said the federal grant would bypass OMPO and instead DOT would complete the study in-house. He expects an answer from the federal government in about six months. If the HDOT wins the grant then the study would be complete within two years.

Contact

But Westside resident Carmen Guzman-Simpliciano, who feels “betrayed” by the recent OMPO decision and decades of delay, is wary. She created a petition against the bypass road and has been active in local government for years to implement the 1998 master plan.

A bill at the legislature to implement the 1998 master plan passed the House but recently died in the Senate.

“Creating petitions and making all these calls and standing on the side of the road and waving signs … we shouldn’t have to have gone through that,” Guzman-Simpliciano said at the meeting.

Sniffen said the federal grant would come with strict deadlines to complete the study and also open up federal dollars to complete the road realignment.

“We’re positively looking at funding opportunities for that realignment project that was planned in 1998,” he said. “That project itself is now valued at about $75 million, and it’s funding that we don’t have at this time.”

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