Two-lane bridges are better, safer

In his “Da Shadow” article of Sept. 11, Jerome Freitas, the best volunteer that Kauai has ever had to look after the safety of the people, asks public works about the one-lane Puuopae and Opaekaa bridges — will they be built one lane or two lanes and will they be built concrete or pre-fabricated? The answers were one lane and steel.

I have spent many years testifying before our councils and writing articles about these three bridges (the Kapahi being the other) and for those of you who are not familiar with this project please let me give you an update.

This bridge replacement debacle that has now resurfaced was hashed and rehashed in 2003-04. It actually started in 1996 or 97 when the federal government appropriated $1.1 million to rebuild the Puuopae bridge.

The biggest issue that stopped this bridge from being rebuilt — the stoppage costing the tax payers $189,600 for the design stage since it was time sensitive was regarding the bridge being built one lane or two lanes. At that time the feds would only pay 80 percent of the cost of the bridge if were built to their standards which, for safety purposes had to be 2 lanes.

The project was stopped because a small group of people wanted the bridge put on the historical register and by their delaying action caused not only forfeiture of the above funds but a 13 year inflationary increase of labor and material costs.

At the time this project began in 1996 the cost of a replacement bridge was about $665,000. In 2003-04 the cost was $2 million and then in 2008 our county engineer told the council that the cost would be $5 million!

On April 30, 2004 Alvin Takeshita, state traffic engineer sent me the data and reasons for a bridge being 2 lanes. His emailed words were, “Our traffic records verify that two-lane bridges on Kauai are safer than one lane bridges. There are 12 one-lane bridges and 39 two lane bridges on Kauai. Our statistics show that historically on Kauai there are two to three more accidents per bridge at one-lane bridges than two-lane bridges.

“From an engineering standpoint the two-lane bridges are safer because they are wider, provide more clearance with bridge railings, and do not create vehicle conflicts caused by one-lane bridges where vehicles traveling in opposite direction must yield. It should also be noted that one-lane bridges tend to be older bridges that do not have the latest engineering safety features enjoyed by newer structures.”

It might also be noted that Officer Kaauwai sent a memo to then police chief Lum saying, “We have checked with the information available to Traffic Safety Unit and do concur with the findings of the State of Hawaii Dept of Transportation, State Traffic Engineer, Alvin Takeshita. The information that the state of Hawaii is giving to Mr. Mickens was obtained through this office, this information only reflects the Major Traffic Crashes In these areas and not minor crashes.”

Certainly section 106 regarding historical structures must be looked at but when two reliable sources, KPD and Department of Transportation highway engineer Takeshita, specifically stating that the safety of the driving public is jeopardized by one land bridges over two land bridges there can certainly be no doubt which type of bridge should be built — safety should never be compromised over historical or for any other purpose.

Thus I would hope that public works would reconsider rebuilding these bridges two lane and not one lane as safety should never be compromised.

Also, “Da Shadow” was told that the rebuilt bridges would be steel and not the prefabricated type. Since we spent $12 million rebuilding the Kilauea bridge (a prefab type would have cost under $1 million) and the $4.8 million we spent on the Olohena bridge (Acrow who built the bridge over the Wailua River would have built it for about $600,000 with detour time of two days instead of three months.) why are we even thinking about rebuilding the three bridges by steel over prefab?

We need factual answers and not more talk that is meaningless.

•••

Glenn Mickens is a resident of Kapaa.

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