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The Conversation

Kolekole Bridge Repairs Continue Alongside Traffic Delays

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Kolekole Bridge on Hawaiʻi Island has been undergoing emergency repairs since last week, causing long traffic delays on the only road in and out of Hilo along the Hamakua Coast.

While conducting a recent inspection, the state Department of Transportation found that four of the steel trusses had structural deterioration. Emergency welding soon began to shore up two of the trusses.

Prior to the welding, the bridge's allowable weight was four tons or 8,000 pounds, meaning only one vehicle was allowed to cross at a time. As of Monday evening, the weight limit has been raised to 12 tons, allowing most emergency and transit vehicles to cross the bridge.

Hawaiʻi County Councilmember Heather Kimball said one-way traffic remains, so drivers should proceed with caution and be aware of congestion in the area.

"A particular challenge about this bridge being closed for the larger vehicles is that there is no alternate route. The old Mamalahoa in this area has two bridges that are also closed and have been closed since Hurricane Lane," Kimball said. "So both northbound and southbound trucks, larger vehicles were being stopped at a point where they could turn around and go back the other way because there was no alternate."

Larger vehicles had to use the Saddle Road to get between the north and south side of Hamakua.

"If you're going to have to go from Honokaʻa via Saddle (Road). It's a significantly longer drive than just coming straight down Highway 19," she said.

The estimated timeline for full repairs is three to four months, Kimball said, though that is dependent on the availability of materials.

The bridge is roughly at mile marker 14, between Honomu and Hakalau.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Sept. 22, 2021.

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