Graphic of planned 18 story tower bridge over the Ala Wai canal in Honolulu
By Ann Wright
Photo of some of the 2200 structures destroyed in the August 2023 wild fire in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
While the island of Maui faces the rebuilding of over 2200 structures in Lahaina and 18 structures in upcountry Kula, on the neighboring island of Oahu, the City and County of Honolulu is going ahead to spend $25 million in federal funds for an unnecessary and controversial pedestrian bridge across the Ala Wai canal. The canal seperates the hotels and condos of Waikiki from the residential area across the canal.
In the spirit of Aloha, I suggest that our Honolulu elected officials give the $25 million in Federal funds allocated for the non-essential Ala Wai bridge to Maui for the reconstruction of Lahaina.
The current Ala Wai bridge design is estimated to cost over $60 million, with $35 million accessed to Honolulu residents, and features a culturally insensitive 18-story, lighted, bridge tower with long cables extending across the span destroying the view of Diamond Head. It looks like it belongs in San Francisco instead of Honolulu. And it’s not a critical infrastructure project.
Reallocating funds from a non-essential pedestrian/bicycle bridge project to a critical rebuilding project would be a remarkable show of solidarity from Honolulu to Lahina, from Oahu to Maui.
I recognize that reprogramming federal funds is not easy, but Hawaii’s Senator Brian Schatz is on the appropriations committee and he and rest of the Hawai’i Congressional delegation have done a good job in getting a large number of members of Congress to visit Lahina and Kula to see the destruction for themselves. I believe they would be amenable to special legislation for the reprogramming of federal funds, if we in Honolulu are generous enough to recommend this.
At the community meeting on the Ala Wai Bridge proposal on Saturday, September 9 at the Ala Wai Elementary School cafeteria, most in the 100+ audience did not want a pedestrian/bicycle bridge to be built. The most applause in the meeting occurred when the sign “Rebuild Maui, Not the Ala Wai Bridge” was raised.
Ann Wright and Janice Shiira at Community Meeting with their signs.
If the Bridge Has to be Built, Build a Modest Bridge
BUT, should the decision stand to build another bridge over the Ala Wai with the McCully bridge only 200 yards away and despite the incredible needs of Lahaina, the bridge should be modest and using as little funds as possible with the caveat that unspent federal funds will be given to Lahaina. Costs over $25 million are to be paid by the Honolulu/Oahu taxpayers, all the more reason to have a modest bridge.
If one wanted to add decoration, certainly there are remarkable designs from the Hawaiian culture that could be added and/or painted onto a modest bridge.
Even with a modest bridge, we must recognize that the people who use the Ala Wai park and gardens will be deeply affected.
The bridge would displace a canoe club which houses a historic koa wood canoe. Public parking for those families who use the soccer, baseball and basketball facilities and the community gardens will be disrupted and probably taken away by the years of bridge construction.
Graphic of planned culturally insensitive 18 story cabled bridge over the Ala Wai canal.
The proposed, very expensive “spectacular” 18 story steel cable bridge would be an affront to the culture of Hawai’i. It will block the view of the canal and Diamond Head from as far up the Ala Wai as the Hawaii Convention Center. It will have nighttime lighting on it that will be shining into apartments on both sides of the Ala Wai. It will be a magnet for youth who will figure out ways to make the long steel strands into a zipline challenge.
According to City of Honolulu’s description, “The bridge’s asymmetrical design in plan and elevation has elements intended to be an abstraction of local inspirations such as fishing nets, waterfalls, and traditional musical instruments.”
But it would take a miracle of imagination to figure out how this description has anything to do with the tower and steel cables.
Recognizing the history of construction projects in Hawaii, we know the disruption of life on the Ala Wai will last for many years, much longer than any timeline of project completion that the authorities will publicize.
We on Oahu have a unique opportunity to practice Aloha to our neighbor island that is suffering so much.
In the spirit of Aloha, I hope a decision to offer the $25 million Ala Wai Bridge project federal funding to Lahaina is made immediately by our elected officials.
Please let Honolulu officials that you want $25 million to go to Lahaina instead of a non-critical bridge through a petition here.
Ann Wright is a retired US Army Colonel and former US diplomat who has lived in Honolulu for 23 years following her r2003 esignation from the US government in opposition to the US war on Iraq. She is a member of Hawaii Peace and Justice, Veterans For Peace, Chapter 113-Hawai’i and Oahu Water Protectors.