I have said this before… After eight years of driving up and down Mauna Kea I have yet to get tired of the view. It is always different.
The latest segment of the new Saddle Road opened this last weekend. From mile post 42 all the way to Mamalahoa Highway we have an all new highway to drive. The road follows a new route, straight for the coast instead of climbing up and over the ridge at Waiki’i. As a result Saddle Road comes out at a new intersection three miles south of the Waikoloa intersection. The old road remains, now demoted to a ranch access road, no longer labeled Highway 200 at the intersection.
I finally got a chance to drive the new section late in the week while commuting to and from the summit of Mauna Kea. My reaction to the new section? It is smooth, fast and boring.
There are no blind curves. There are no one-way yields over narrow bridges! No more roller coaster, no slamming the curves at Kilohana. There is even a passing lane all the way up the steep grades. No more thrills and scares while passing the water trucks in no-passing zones. It is just boring!
And much safer I suppose.
What was the Saddle Road of infamy is now the best highway on the island. You can still travel the old segment if you do want a taste of the old Saddle, but most traffic is using the new road. Word from our management is that Keck vehicles are to drive the new road. It is a few miles longer when traveling from Waimea, taking about the same time considering the higher speed limits. For those traveling from Kona or Waikoloa it is substantially shorter.
Boring and safer? I will just have to deal with safer.
Saddle Road is still Saddle.
Despite millions of dollars spent repaving, or outright rebuilding this road, some of the old Saddle still exists. While the road is vastly better than is has ever been, no amount of rebuilding can completely eliminate the hazards of dense fog, wild animals, and the other conditions that make this road unique.
This particular curve seems to claim at least one car each year. I have seen three other wrecks here, including at least two other vehicles upside down within feet of where this Toyota rests. And those are only the ones I have seen, not counting the number of times the fence has been crushed amongst a litter of vehicle parts. At least this time the injuries were mostly inflicted on the vehicle, the police officer I spoke with indicated that the passengers were quite lucky.
I have a fair collection of wreck photos taken along the commute up and down the mountain. A reminder to take the roads of Mauna Kea seriously.
It has been a week since the paving machine began it’s slow work. Gone is the patchwork of pavement, a road seemingly built by many years of repair crews, so many patches that little remained of whatever pavement originally existed. Bit by bit the ragged road we have bounced over for many years is being covered by a smooth surface.
The machine has reached milepost 48, a half mile more than that in the Kona bound lane. The first layer mostly completed by the county crews. From there to the district line the lanes are pleasant and smooth drive, such a contrast from the old pavement. This latest segment leads to the section that was paved last year, from MP48 to the rebuilt sections across PTA, the road is nothing like the rough experience of Saddle Road past. The only rough section remaining is the few miles from MP48 to the western terminus at Mamalahoa highway.
While making a pass in each lane, the crews left about a foot in the middle unpaved for now, keeping the center line exposed, and creating a road a few inches wider. Breaking with tradition, no one drives the center of the road in the repaved section, avoiding the small trough created between the lanes.
The infamous Saddle Road of fable and legend is vanishing, repaved or completely rebuilt. Those of us who drive it regularly enjoy the new smooth ride, but in some ways we also mourn the disappearance of the real Saddle Road.
Phase 5 in the rebuilding of Saddle Road is progressing rapidly, this is the totally new section from Mauna Kea State Park to MP42. As we came through the area Thursday morning a constant chain of trucks hauling asphalt was crossing the road. There was a great deal of other activity in evidence but we could not see the paving operation itself, it was somewhere out of sight behind the military barracks.
It appears that the entire segment now has at least some asphalt on it. This was most apparent at the east end. Monday afternoon this was still bare gravel, as of Wednesday the new roadbed was covered with a base layer of asphalt. The wide expanse of smooth pavement quite a contrast to what we had to turn down to continue our journey home.
As we come through the guys all take a moment to see where progress has been made. We all look forward to another seven miles of smooth and safe road.