LIHUE — When Hanakaulani Montgomery was growing up in Kekaha, she remembers the days when she could still see the neat, well-kept plantation homes near the Lihue Mill Bridge.
“I used to think, ‘Wow, how peaceful it is and how beautiful these little houses are. They’re so neat. The yards are neat. The people are neat,’” Montgomery recalled.
It’s a memory that, she said, is now a stark contrast to the four-lane Kaumualii Highway that carries thousands of motorists through Lihue each day.
“I never dreamt that it would come to this, but here it is today,” Montgomery said. “All of us, collectively, have to put our mana (spirit or energy) into the vessel that’s going to bring all of our people from the Westside, Eastside and North Shore to go through here.”
The thoroughfare marked a new milestone on Friday, when state Department of Transportation officials dedicated the last of two Lihue Mill Bridges built to carry four lanes of traffic through Lihue.
“I’ve got to tell you, this isn’t celebrating the end of the project,” state Department of Transportation Deputy Director Edwin Sniffen said. “The project itself is a widening project that’s going to go all the way to the Tree Tunnel. We’re just celebrating a phase today.”
The newly restored, 78-year-old Lihue Mill Bridge will officially go into service on Monday afternoon, when project contractors will open the mauka lane to traffic and close the makai lane of the new bridge.
This will leave one lane open on each bridge dedicated for eastbound and westbound traffic.
Closing the two lanes, Sniffen said, will allow contractors to finish up their grinding, road striping and guard rail work on the two bridges.
By the end of the month, around March 27, at least three lanes — two eastbound lanes on the makai bridge and one westbound lane on the mauka bridge — should be open to traffic.
The dedicated right turn lane onto Rice Street from Kaumualii Highway should also be open by that time, DOT Kauai District Engineer Ray McCormick said.
“It’s an exciting project and quite a beautiful one to look at — you can walk it and you can bike along it,” McCormick said. “I’m in such awe because it is a beautiful project.”
All four lanes — two eastbound lanes and two westbound lanes across both bridges — should be open by the first week of April.
Extensive rust underneath the Lihue Mill Bridge, McCormick said, prompted contractors to replace most of the bridge’s steel structures. The bridge’s footings and abutments, however, were preserved as a part of the project.
The $43.5 million project was comprised of $39.34 million in federal funds, including about $22.7 million in economic stimulus money. The state of Hawaii, meanwhile, contributed an additional $4.16 million for the project.