Kawela Bridge gets facelift

By Dan Murphy

Plans to replace the old Kawela Bridge were approved by the Molokai Planning Commission (MoPC) last month. The bridge, located just past mile marker five, has been known to flood during big rainstorms and block off the east end of King Kamehameha V Highway.

Mich Hirano, vice president of Munekiyo and Hiraga planning firm, reported to MoPC that the old bridge had been deemed structurally and hydraulically inadequate. Hirano said they still have plenty of work ahead of them.

“Our role is to get all of the permits for the project. There are still a number of permits that they need before they can start building,” he said.

The new plans call for an extension of the existing bridge from 44 feet to 56 feet long. Ten foot shoulders will also be added on either side of the road to provide a safe lane for bikers and pedestrians. However, the majority of the improvements will occur beneath the road.

Flooding in the area has occurred in the past because sediment piles up and blocks water from flowing beneath the bridge. During the new project, all excess sediment will be cleared and the banks will be lined with cement to keep dirt from gathering again. The bridge height will also be raised from five to seven feet, allowing enough room for equipment to clean underneath the bridge if necessary.

The Commissioners, who visited the site of the project the morning before making their decision, had two major concerns with the project. First, they wanted to make sure that a reliable backup plan was in place in case a flood hit during the construction process.

“Our discussions [at the site visit] noted that there was no contingency plan if the temporary bridge failed in anyway,” Commissioner Mikiala Pescaia said.

During construction, a temporary bridge will be built makai of the work so traffic can continue to flow. If that bridge is damaged, the Commission made sure that the contractor would have the road opened within 24 hours after a storm.

They also ensured that this project would not drag on like the recently completed Kawaikapu Bridge on the east end – it took nearly four years to construct the 30 foot bridge. MoPC told the Department of Transportation they had a maximum of three years to complete the project after breaking ground. Hirano said he did not expect the project to take longer than one year to complete.

Construction will not begin until Fall of 2010 at the earliest, and may be even later depending on how long it takes to obtain the remaining permits and select a contractor to complete the project.


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