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Backers of Blocked Freeway on Oahu Hope Congress Will Cut Red Tape

June 01, 1986|STEWART TAGGART | Associated Press

KANEOHE, Hawaii — Get on the first and only westbound entrance to Oahu's H-3 Highway and a familiar red and blue interstate highway sign is one of the first things you see.

A few hundred yards later is another sign. It reads: "Freeway Ends, 1/2 mile." Cars must exit through an awkward one-lane loop lined with orange pylons.

Twenty-six years after it was first proposed, less than two miles of the planned 14-mile freeway have been built. Controversy over it has coincided with much of Hawaii's statehood. Meanwhile, the price has soared: Once projected to cost $96 million, it is now expected to cost $740 million, possibly more.

Intended to Link Bases

Under court order, construction has stopped. Opponents hope the road will never be completed. Supporters say it must be and have pinned their hopes on an act of Congress.

Slicing through a jagged range of breathtaking, often rainbow-crowned greenery called the Koolau Mountains, the H-3 was intended to link the Pearl Harbor Naval Base area in Leeward Oahu with the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station in Windward Oahu.

It would supplement two smaller, four-lane trans-Koolau roads built during the 1950s. The two roads are clogged with cross-island traffic, a side effect of Hawaii's post-statehood boom when healthy, middle-class bedroom communities spread along the white beaches of Oahu's Windward Side.

Supporters say the H-3 is vital. Cross-mountain traffic has more than doubled, to 96,000 vehicles a day, in the 25 years since the Pali and Likelike highways were built. Projections indicate that it could increase to 124,000 by the year 2008.

Economics vs. Environment

With 90% of its estimated cost funded by the federal government, the highway would also be an economic boon to Hawaii, supporters say.

Opponents say the road would destroy archeological sites and pristine mountain beauty, as well as impose unwanted development on a cherished suburban life style. They want the highway shelved and the money traded for other projects.

Construction was ordered stopped in August, 1984, because of the harmful effects it could have on a 400-acre botanical park on Oahu's Windward side. The ruling was the third in the case in 13 years issued by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The battle over Hoomaluhia Park capped years of legal maneuvering.

Opponents Filed Suit

In 1960, the federal government approved construction of the Interstate and Defense Highway System on Oahu that included H-3. H-1 and H-2 were built in time. Public hearings were held on H-3 between 1960 and 1971, the year a group of Windward Oahu residents formed the Stop H-3 Assn. They sued, arguing that the historic and environmental aspects had not been sufficiently considered.

A U.S. district judge first ordered that construction be halted, then, in 1974, lifted the injunction. The opponents won on appeal, however. Planners then shifted the route several miles north but, after more proceedings and appeals, the anti-H-3 group won again when an appeals court barred further construction of the rerouted H-3 unless federal transportation officials could show that there was no feasible alternative to putting the highway next to the regional park that was created on Windward Oahu in 1981.

Hoomaluhia Park is a moist, rain-fed area between upper residential sections of Kaneohe and the near-vertical faces of the Koolaus. The park, popular with educational groups and campers, has a 32-acre lake, hiking trails, an equestrian area and a community center and exhibition hall.

City Bought Buffer Strip

It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect low-lying areas from runoff. It was turned over to the city and county of Honolulu in 1981.

The city later bought a narrow strip of land between the park's boundary and the proposed freeway to preclude residential development on it. The land was added to the park and later became the focus of the appeals court's ruling that the highway ran too close to the park.

"One of the main ironies of the situation is that the extensive coordination that had been done in order to make the park and the highway side-by-side was eventually used as the turning point to say the highway should not be built," says Cheryl Soon, deputy state transportation director for highways.

The appeals court decision became the newest line of controversy.

"I think it is the nail in the coffin for H-3 as they want to build it," Boyce Brown, attorney for the Stop H-3 Assn., said after the decision.

Governor Backs Construction

Gov. George Ariyoshi, a Democrat and supporter of the freeway, was less sure.

"I will do everything I can to have the freeway built," he said after the decision. "It (the H-3) will be built and when it is built, it will cost millions more."

In 15 years, less than two years of construction have been completed. As a result of H-3's stop-and-go history, only one short stretch of the road is open to traffic.

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