HANAPEPE — An infrastructure project to replace the Hanapepe River Bridge is well behind schedule, and construction has been at a virtual standstill for months.
Construction on a replacement for the 80-year-old bridge began earlier this year, and already the project has been delayed five or six months, said Larry Dill, district engineer with the state Department of Transportation.
Just six months later, administrative and technical difficulties have pushed the completion date back to early 2021.
Dill said construction has been all but halted for the past few months, with workers unable to start on the next major phase of the project — drilling a shaft into the river bed — until Hawaiian Telcom phone lines that span the Hanapepe River are relocated.
“Hawaiian Tel has had some struggles in the organization with being responsive,” Dill said, citing “staffing issues” to explain why the state’s dominant telephone service provider was unable to comply with HDOT’s repeated requests to move utility lines preventing large equipment from accessing the construction site.
“It’s a bottleneck for us,” Dill admitted, adding that the phone company is working to reroute the wires. He could not say for sure when normal construction work is expected to resume.
In response to email inquiries on the matter, a Hawaiian Telcom spokesperson said the delay was “due to material procurement issues,” adding the company has “devoted manpower and resources to expedite the process.”
The setback has not been entirely the fault of Hawaiian Telcom. The phone company delayed work for at least the past few months, but complications with nearby sewage infrastructure also slowed things down, as necessary renovations proved more complicated and time-consuming than expected.
Sewer lines that crossed the Hanapepe River via the old bridge had to be rerouted along a temporary bridge installed earlier this year.
The job also required workers to replace aging equipment in a county-owned sewer pump station located near the west end of the bridge, according to Dill, who said the repairs and changes were “a lot more involved than anticipated.”
Dill did not specify exactly how much extra time was needed to deal with the sewage infrastructure, but between that setback and the ongoing difficulties state and federal agencies backing the project have had with Hawaiian Telcom, the project is not off to a smooth start.
The lack of progress has not gone unnoticed by members of the surrounding community who drive over the temporary bridge every day and watch the construction site activity — or lack thereof — from their backyards. For some, the traffic backups and stockpiles of construction equipment are a source of mild frustration and, occasionally, even amusement.
But Linda Ka‘iakapu isn’t laughing. She owns the Shell gas station and adjacent auto repair shop, Western Motors, on the corner of Iona Road and Kaumualii Highway. Until traffic was rerouted to the temporary bridge, her business sat right on the main highway through town, a location that was convenient and highly visible.
Now, a sign on top of Ka‘iakapu’s gas station can barely be seen over the temporary bridge, and potential customers traveling from either direction on the highway have to make a hairpin turn that is annoying on good days and risky when traffic conditions are less than optimal.
Kai‘akapu says her gas station is losing thousands of dollars in business every day, with average gasoline sales down about a third since traffic was rerouted in February.
Business has picked up slightly in the past month or so, as travelers passing her gas station get used to making the sharp turn onto the side road to get to her pumps.
“It’s improving, but we’re still losing 800 gallons a day (in sales),” she said. “We’re lucky we have the repair shop to keep us going.”
Ka‘iakapu said she saw her sales numbers drop the same day the temporary bridge was put in place. Almost immediately, she got on the phone to HDOT, hoping the government would compensate her for the lost income.
Ka‘iakapu’s calls to HDOT were forwarded to Dill, who, she says, assured her that she and other local business owners would be paid for their loss of business. Dill insists he never made that promise, and said he told Ka‘iakapu only that she may be entitled to some compensation if it could be proved that the gas station’s declines in revenue were a direct result of the bridge project.
So Ka‘iakapu says she gathered the documents showing the dramatic drop in gasoline sales corresponding with the date the temporary bridge was opened, but, for reasons that are unclear to her, the evidence she provided was insufficient to warrant payment.
Negotiations between the business owner and the state official seem to be at a standstill. Dill maintains he hasn’t received adequate documentation, and Ka‘iakapu insists she has turned over all the necessary paperwork and said that during their most recent conversation, Dill “sounded like he didn’t want to deal with it.”
“He just gives me the runaround,” she said. “You can just tell by the gallons lost that we are losing money.”
When further conversations with Dill were unsuccessful, Ka‘iakapu turned to state legislators.
“I called the politicians for help,” she said during a recent interview at her gas station. According to Ka‘iakapu, recent calls she made to state legislators and elected officials in the county government all went unanswered.
“No response,” she said. “Seems like nobody knows nothing.”
State Rep. Dee Morikawa, of House District 16, which covers Hanapepe, was familiar with Ka‘iakapu and her situation, but said she hasn’t heard from the woman since construction began. Morikawa was sympathetic toward Ka‘iakapu, but said she was unsure whether a practical solution exists for business owners financially damaged by the project.
“The state is obligated to do something,” Morikawa said. “It’s a tough situation.”
Meanwhile, Ka‘iakapu is left to look out the plate-glass window on the front of her Shell station at the skeleton of a bridge across the street that is only marginally closer to being finished than it was six months prior. She is quickly running short of patience and revenue.
”I don’t know what to do,” she said.
When asked if her business is still profitable, she shrugged and looked at a fat cat sleeping on the cement floor of her gas station with a satisfied look on his face.
“I’m just hanging in there, paying my bills as best I can,” she said.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.