This is the fourth in a series of essays to provide information and recommendations toward shaping the future of Puna to help it prosper and become the finest place to live!
Volcano Highway 11 connects Hilo to Puna and; with the rapid population growth with much more to come, it is clearly inadequate. In upper Puna it will be difficult and costly to increase capacity and it would be a disaster if that lifeline was blocked or severed.
The situation is equally bleak in lower Puna where Keaau-Pahoa Highway 130 squeezes between Hawaiian Paradise Park (HPP) and Orchidland Estates, the two giant private subdivisions. That road is also inadequate and construction improvements are not expected to be completed until 2017. When completed, it will more efficiently create a larger traffic jam between HPP and Keaau.
This revised version of PMAR directly addresses these challenges as a major new 500' wide corridor into Hilo. Conceptually it connects Hilo Bayfront and Hilo Airport to the midpoint between Keaau junction and HPP. It bisects the largely underdeveloped land between Highway 11 and the ocean. It will split the Highway 130 traffic volume and address the major traffic bottleneck. From that midpoint between Keaau junction and HPP, PMAR will head mauka to connect to Kurtistown to provide a major alternate high-traffic route between Volcano and Pahoa that by-passes Keaau.
EVOLUTION OF THIS PMAR VERSION
The initial proposal for a full-width PMAR through Hawaiian Paradise Park (HPP) at 15th Avenue created HUGE vocal opposition. Our previous PMAR recommendation was largely adopted in the final report of the Puna Regional Circulation Plan (PRCP-November 2005). It stopped short of HPP, turned mauka to connect to Shower Drive to meet Pahoa Highway 130. The section across the intersection that became known as Puna Emergency Access Road II (PEAR II) began at Pohaku Street in Orchidland, went mauka to 40th Avenue to connect to Volcano Hwy 11.
Although these two roads that include portions within the subdivisions would better serve both HPP and Orchidland, it is currently impossible to develop a private substandard subdivision consensus. The residents are deeply divided and the community associations do not have sufficient influence or support to speak for the subdivisions.
As the Puna Community Development Plan (PCDP) has deadlines, our objective shifted from proposing "the alignment that best serves the community," to proposing "the alignment that can gather greater Puna community consensus and support." Most of the land between the former C. Brewer (Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut) and the Kurtistown exit is owned by the W. H. Shipman Estate. They have crafted a Keaau Master Plan and this PMAR conceptual routing is compatible with that plan.
PMAR will do for Hilo and Puna what the Queen Kaahumanu Highway connecting Kawaihae and Kailua did for Kona-Kohala. With the benefit of hindsight, we can replicate the positive aspects while addressing the negative impacts.
The first lesson is to reject "common wisdom." The general public wants shoreline access but such roads would be in the tsunami zone and tend to lead toward strip development like Kailua-Kona or Waikiki. Inland roads like Queen Kaahumanu allow for resort or cluster destinations. While Hilo-Puna is less visitor industry oriented, keeping the wide corridor inland will allow green-belting a divided limited access highway with amenities that could include a jogging-bicycling path, electrical or phone transmission, water or sewage lines, and mass transit. Besides aesthetics, green-belting will be part of security for agricultural or commercial operations.
The routing or alignment of new corridors usually receive the most attention. Not enough attention is given to the needs of the large landowners and the planning of activities in the proximity of the major exits. The large landowners are the ones that are in a position to create exciting economic projects and their participation should be encouraged in the planning process.
Once the alignment predicted general public consensus and support, my emphasis shifted to introducing and getting the involvement of the large landowners. This informational sheet is to introduce the concepts utilized to date with suggestions as to possible ways to economically exploit the win-win opportunities. The conceptual plan is a "point-to-point" presentation with the final alignment to be developed by engineers consulting with large property owners.
PMAR is expected to handle large traffic volumes and there must be as many exits as possible to disperse the traffic smoothly. Queen Kaahumanu alignment was well done, but; because of insufficient exits, there are major bottlenecks. The attached PMAR working draft map is numbered to allow discussion and to point out possible areas needing additional study.
PMAR EXITS AND SECTIONAL NOTES
1. BAYFRONT (KAMEHAMEHA AVE), HILO PIER. PMAR can end at Kamehameha Avenue and connect to service roads leading to ilHiloHilo Pier. Puna will likely become an export production center for the state and PMAR is expected to handle a lot of trucking and freight.
2. OLD HILO AIRPORT (AIR CARGO AREA). It is desirable that trucks from Puna not need to go onto Kanoelehua (Hwy. 11) and able to go directly to the air cargo areas, container consolidating marshalling yard, inspection facilities, etc. The draft is based upon a narrowed highway running parallel to Kanoelehua and cutting across unused airport paving behind the row of homes and businesses to reach the old Hilo Airport. Space is at a premium at Hilo Pier so the area around the airport would be ideal for air or surface shipping related activities.
3. HILO AIRPORT, COUNTY LANDFILL, KEAUKAHA MILITARY RESERVATION. Although FedEx and UPS are locating near the airport control tower it may be preferable for the corridor to be on the Hilo side of the military reservation if possible. Recent news reports planned improvements to Keaukaha Military Reservation and this is a major concern. Old Puna Trail starts in this area and it originally connected to Old Volcano Trail in Kurtistown. It is very desirable to incorporate the Old Puna Trail (It is necessary to double-check to assure there will be no problems due to the proximity of the quarry and landfill operations.)
4. PUAINAKO STREET, PRINCE KUHIO MALL, RAILROAD AVE, MAKAALA & WAL-MART. This could become the major PMAR Hilo exit and an ideal site for a Hilo shuttle bus system and a transfer point for the mass transits arriving from various parts of Puna. Another possible nearby project would be a Hawaiian Cultural Center that could replace the major Wahaula Hawaiiana Center in Volcanoes National Park that was covered with lava. Could it include a performing arts and educational center that could host an expanded Merrie Monarch Festival or scheduled performances on cruise boat days? Could it become a certified food processing center or a craft village? Conceptually, it would provide an economic vehicle to give preference to those who live on Hawaiian Home Lands and to instill pride and celebrate our host culture.
5. KAWAILANI ST. This is a lower priority exit but should be considered as the connection with Railroad Avenue will disperse traffic. It also has an existing traffic light at Volcano Highway 11. While it may not be initially needed, creating another PMAR exit may be desirable in the future and planning should allow for this option.
6. MAKALIKA ST (NANI MAU GARDENS) STATE AGRICULTURAL PARK AREA. The area around the possible exit is largely undeveloped and PMAR will provide access for possible major projects for State of Hawaii, Hawaiian Homes and the ocean-front Watamulls property.
7. MAUNA LOA MACADAMIA VISITOR CENTER / MACADAMIA ROAD. PMAR can provide a new improved entrance to the visitor center. Just as the visitor center compliments the processing plant and promotes macadamia nuts, it might make sense for Hershey to invite other Hawaiian agricultural commodities to become a larger Hawaiian Agricultural Promotional Center that would promote all Big Island agricultural and gift products to become a "must-see" visitor industry attraction.
8. KEAAU BY-PASS ROAD / KEAAU NEW TOWN / SHIPMAN INDUSTRIAL PARK. PMAR will change Keaau from the "Gateway to Puna" to the "Crossroads of Puna" as the regional urban center to provide jobs, services and shopping. Once the Shipman Keaau Master Plan is a reality, Puna residents will save a 10-15 mile trip by going to Keaau instead of Hilo.
9. INTERSECTION OF PMAR AND PAHOA HIGHWAY 130. The conceptual point of intersection halfway between Keaau Junction (Shipman Park) and Hawaiian Paradise Park (Shower Drive) and Orchidland (Pohaku Street) was arbitrarily selected to easily locate on maps. It is south of the new Keaau schools and can be moved closer to Keaau or HPP-Orchidland. There is sufficient room in this area for a PMAR/Pahoa Highway 130 interchange and it could be designed as part of the Pahoa Highway improvements expected to be completed in 2017. Note that PMAR connects to the bottom of Old Volcano Trail and a Volcano to Hilo downhill bike ride and/or marathon course is possible. A runner-biker underpass or overpass should be considered to pass through this intersection.
10. KEAAU HEIGHTS. There is a traffic light on Volcano Highway 11 at Paahana Street that goes through Keaau Heights and connects to the entrance to Kamehameha School. The exit will give another alternate road for Keaau Heights residents heading for Pahoa and Hilo.
11. ORCHIDLAND ESTATES 40TH AVENUE. PMAR threads between the Keaau Heights and Orchidland subdivisions through small unused agricultural properties between. When Orchidland Estates was created in the 1950's, 40th Avenue was lengthened far beyond other Orchidland roads to almost connect with Volcano Highway 11. The final report of the Puna Regional Circulation Plan supports this acquisition (under "connectivity" and PEAR-II) and their recommendation was the second highest priority only to PEAR (in Ainaloa and Hawaiian Acres that is currently being improved). While Orchidland (and the lower part of Hawaiian Acres) are factors in selecting this alignment, I do not recommend unconditionally connecting PMAR to Orchidland Estates 40th Avenue as will be discussed in another recommendation. The Old Volcano Trail (30' wide jog-bike easement) starts here.
12. KURTISTOWN. The major negative of this PMAR version is the need to create another intersection on Volcano Highway 11. The Central Kurtistown Kumiai is strongly against widening Olaa Road which is a 30' wide easement 1-lane County road. While not directly aligned, a Kurtistown "South Road" intersection may be possible. With a connector road to Huina Road, the large area mauka of Kurtistown currently designated "urban expansion" could be zoned commercial-industrial to bring jobs, services, and shopping to upper Puna and reduce the need to travel to Hilo. South Road can also connect to North Road and intersect with the future Kulani to Kupulau Road in upper Hilo.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
Research into funding has begun and there is a possibility of significant funding by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). To qualify for federal funding, PMAR must be on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The balance could include State and/or County funds with representative appropriation and administrative allotment. Funds may also be available via congressional "earmarks" or under a federal program for roads within 10 miles of airports. This PMAR version has the highest cost-benefit and would have the highest support from the most Puna residents. Design and construction should be expedited for completion if possible before the Pahoa Highway Improvements in 2017.