Not everything in paradise is perfect, and Saddle Road on Hawaii’s Big Island was in need of some TLC. The vital route that connects the east side of the island to the west side, was originally built in 1942 to provide access to its military training facilities located in the “saddle” between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Over the next 50 years, some widening and paving was done, but no significant improvements were made, leaving many of the existing roadway deficiencies uncorrected.
Since 2004, the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HIDOT) has been working in phases to reconstruct different sections of the 48-mile-long road that serves as a primary route and is one of only three major routes to connect the Big Island’s major population centers. The latest section being completed is on the west side of the island, a new alignment between existing Saddle Road milepost 41.5 and State Route 190, Mamalahoa Highway.
“Reconstructing the remainder of Saddle Road will provide a safe and efficient route to access areas along Saddle Road and for cross-island traffic between the east and west,” says Glenn M. Okimoto, Hawaii Department of Transportation (HIDOT) director. “It will eliminate its deficiencies, minimize conflicts with military operations, increase capacity, improve safety, meet public and social demands and enhance economic development.”
The project, which is nearing completion and in the process of being paved, required substantial rehabilitation to keep up with federal highway standards and improve safety.
Horizontal and vertical alignments in the road were redesigned and implemented to meet current rural arterial design standards. HIDOT also installed solar-powered emergency call boxes to provide piece of mind and an instant connection with 911 in case of an emergency. Uphill passing lanes, truck escape ramps and a military vehicle underpass were also incorporated to the new road design.
“The underpass will connect the Pohakuloa Military Training Area with the Keamuku Maneuver Area, thus avoiding an at-grade crossing on Saddle Road,” says Okimoto.
Finishing ahead of schedule and under budget
HIDOT partnered with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for the Saddle Road West Side project. HIDOT completed a 1.2 million cubic yard grading of the roadway six full months ahead of schedule and within the $33.7 million budget. This was largely due to the close partnership between HIDOT and FHWA’s Central Lands Highway Division.
The FHWA, Central Federal Lands Highway Division (CFLHD), was requested by the HIDOT through an agreement to provide project management, NEPA, design and construction oversight services to supplement HIDOT forces for the Saddle Road route project.
“CFLHD has historically shown strong success with managing projects that have the potential to be contentious, involving multiple federal, state and local government entities, with strong public involvement,” Okimoto says. “The partnership established between the FHWA-CFLHD, the FHWA Hawaii Division Office and the Hawaii Department of Transportation has historically been strong and the success of the Saddle Road project reinforces the decision to maintain that partnership.”
Management of the project budget was completed through continual review and communication between the CFLHD project manager (Mike Will), the on-site construction engineer (Mark Lloyd), and the contractor (Baxter Kirkland - Kirkland Construction). Monitoring of the schedule and budget occurred monthly as contractor invoices were processed. This helped to identify any potential for schedule delay or quantity over-run. Additionally, weekly meetings were held between Kirkland and Lloyd to assess project status and upcoming activities.
“Kirkland construction brought a plan to complete the work efficiently and as a result, were able to shave six months from the planned schedule,” says Okimoto. “The plan included shipping equipment from the mainland that is not readily available on-island that would traditionally be used for larger scale mining types of operations like the 9-cubic-yard excavators. The use of this large scale construction equipment was proven beneficial to the project schedule.”