The Federal Highway Administration, Central Federal Lands Highway Division (FHWA), in cooperation with the State of Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT), is proposing to improve Saddle Road, State Route 200, Island of Hawaii.
The proposal would reconstruct Saddle Road as a two-lane highway to meet modern design standards for rural arterials, and provide safer travel and adequate capacity for anticipated traffic volumes through 2014 and beyond.
Saddle Road is the only paved arterial serving the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA). The U.S. Department of the Army (DOA), Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC), serves with the FHWA as co-administrator of the Defense Access Road (DAR) Program. The MTMC determined that the design and construction of Saddle Road improvements within the approximate limits of PTA would be eligible for DAR funds as would the environmental documentation for the entire proposed project. Funds for constructing the DAR section of highway must first be authorized and appropriated by Congress. HDOT will improve the remaining portion of the road, as funds become available.
Final EIS Released
Over a three-year period, 1994 to 1997, alternatives for improvement of Saddle Road were developed and refined. Input was received from many groups and individuals including an interagency Social, Economic, and Environmental Team (SEE Team), the Saddle Road Community Task Force (a volunteer citizens group), state and local agencies, local residents, landowners, and citizens-at-large. Agency and public scoping meetings, the distribution of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS, October 1997), and public hearings allowed for early consideration of engineering, environmental and social issues, and resulted in numerous refinements of the alternatives under consideration. Of the alternatives considered, some were determined to warrant further analysis, while some were initially considered but eliminated.
The final results of this process, an FHWA Recommended Alternative, is presented in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The FEIS presents the reasons for selection of the Recommended Alternative, a transcript of the public hearings, copies of public and agency comments and responses to those comments, and copies of interagency agreements. The FEIS will be available for review by September 3, 1999. The FHWA will issue a Record of Decision (ROD) confirming the selected route and required mitigation measures in October of this year. The ROD is a legally binding document that ensures implementation of the commitments of the FEIS.
Several issues emerged during circulation of the Draft EIS that required further coordination with regulatory agencies. All issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of the agencies involved. These issues are discussed in depth in the Executive Summary of the FEIS (available online at www.saddleroad.com).
One of the most notable considerations in the selection of W-3 as the recommended alternative for this section was its efficiency for serving cross-island traffic because the largest percentage of motorists using Saddle Road are traveling between Hilo and Kona. In terms of overall time and fuel savings, W-3 would result in greater benefits to Saddle Road motorists and the community as a whole. Further, it is estimated that the shorter length of W-3 will also prove less costly to build.
PTA-1 completely satisfies the project purpose and need by improving the safety and efficiency of cross-island travel and the quality of military training as well as minimizing conflicts between military and civilian traffic. This alignment would also result in substantial impacts by direct modification of Palila Critical Habitat. However, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Final Biological Opinion, the mitigation measures built into the project design will offset the modifications to this habitat, and will enhance the likelihood of survival and recovery of the Palila. (Palila is the lone surviving finch-billed honeycreeper bird found in Hawaii.)
As a result of much discussion and investigation of potential alternative routes through Section III, it was concluded that all routes other than the selected EX-3 would provide notably greater impacts to adjacent biological and archaeological resources. For this reason, EX-3 predominately follows the existing alignment.
Of the two new alignments selected for detailed study, E-3 avoided the potential relocation of numerous residences, the substantial increases in traffic noise at remaining residences, and the higher long-term motorists operating costs posed by alternative EX-4. For these reasons and the fact that impacts to biological resources roughly equivalent for each of the alternatives, the FHWA selected E-3 as the recommended alternative in this Section.
Construction of a portion of the Recommended Alternative within the PTA (Section II, approximate cost $40 million) could begin as soon as early 2001. Construction of the remainder of the roadway would be phased as funds become available, and could be completed as early as late 2008. It is proposed that the remaining sections be constructed in this order:
Upcoming project milestones include: the issuance of a ROD in October; the commencement of final roadway design this fall; a Conservation District Use Application Public Hearing in the spring of 2000 (hearing to be scheduled by DLNR); and advertisement of a partial Section II construction project in early 2001. The FEIS provides further detailed information and is available for on-site review at the following locations:
Persons wishing to comment in writing on the FEIS may do so by mail to the FHWA, 555 Zang Street, Lakewood, CO 80028, Attention: HPD-16E Saddle Road. Written comments will be accepted through October 5, 1999.
More detailed information on the Saddle Road project can be found in the Saddle Road Executive Summary available by calling the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board, Ms Paula Helfrich, at (808) 966-5416 or (808) 329-4713, or on-line at www.saddleroad.com.
Citizens having questions about the proposed project can call either Mr. Bert McCauley, FHWA Environmental Project Manager at (303) 716-2141; Ms. Nancy Burns, Okahara & Associates Senior Project Engineer at (808) 329-1221; or Mr. Kenneth Au, HDOT Advance Planning Engineer at (808) 587-1843.