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Lawmakers advance legislation to relieve traffic congestion in rapidly growing Puna on Big Island

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State lawmakers have advanced legislation that aims to relieve traffic congestion in the rapidly growing district of Puna on Hawaiʻi Island.

For decades, Puna residents commuting to and from the city center of Hilo more than 10 miles away have had only one route choice — Highway 130, also known as the Keaʻau-Pāhoa Road.

Traffic volumes along Highway 130 peak upwards of 20,000 vehicles a day in each direction. Puna residents have seen their 20 minute drives double or even triple in recent years.

House Bill 1403 would require the state Department of Transportation to work with Hawaiʻi County to survey potential locations for an alternate route to Highway 130.

Ed Sniffen, Deputy Director at DOT, says the agency has been working with Mayor Mitch Roth’s administration to secure federal funding that could be used for a survey like this.

"The study in general is going to be about $1.5 to $2 million. This is based on a project cost of about $200 million. That would be a big lift for the department to push towards a county project," Sniffen said. "I should mention that the county at this time is getting an apportionment of about $6.5 million or so of federal funds. And that’s lower than the apportionment that they normally should get."

"That being said, we are working with Mayor Roth’s Administration to increase that apportionment to appropriately reflect what they should be getting. So around $10 million or so. That’s another $3.5 to $4 million that could go toward county projects like this," he said.

While the DOT supports efforts to build the alternate route in Puna, a project like this would ultimately fall under the county’s jurisdiction.

HB 1403 was passed out of the House Transportation Committee and now awaits a hearing before the House Finance Committee.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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