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open drainage

Hawaii Route 200

Route 200, known locally as Saddle Road, is a road that traverses the width of the Island of Hawai‘i, from downtown Hilo to its junction with State Route 190 near Waimea. The road was considered one of the most dangerous paved roads in the state, with many one-lane bridges and areas of marginally maintained pavement, but much of it has now been improved to modern standards. It reaches a maximum height of 6,632 feet (2,021 metres) and is subject to fog and low visibility. Many rental car companies used to prohibit use of their cars on Saddle Road, but most now permit use of the road. Nevertheless, it provides the shortest route from Hilo to Kailua-Kona and access to the slopes of Mauna Loa and the observatories atop Mauna Kea.

  • TOTAL MILES = 53.6 (86.3kM)

History

While planning for the defense of the Hawaiian Islands in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army hastily built an access road in 1942 to service their Pohakūloa Training Area and Bradshaw Army Airfield in the Humu‘ula Highlands of Parker Ranch. Since it was not intended as a civilian road, the construction method was simple: clear, grade, pave. Military vehicles of all types and treads traversed the Island for the next three years.

Following the end of World War II in 1945, the Army turned over jurisdiction of the road to the Territory of Hawai‘i and was designated Route 20 but the territorial government had few funds to maintain the road, let alone upgrade it to civilian standards. The story was the same as the newly formed State of Hawai‘i took over jurisdiction in 1959. Saddle Road was subsequently handed to the County of Hawai‘i and for many years only minimal maintenance was performed, leading to generally poor conditions and the source of the road's notorious reputation.

In recent years there has been increased attention on the road, with efforts to rebuild and renovate the highway into a practical cross island route. This has culminated in the repaving of some sections and complete rebuilding of others.

Wai‘ānuenue Avenue

The MILE Ø marker is posted on the traffic signal at the intersection of Wai‘ānenue Avenue, Kamehameha Avenue and Bayfront Highway. The route continues mauka along Wai‘ānuenue Avenue to a little over a half-mile past the MILE 1 where it veers left onto Kaūmana Drive near Gilbert Carvalho Park. Further along Wai‘ānuenue Avenue is Rainbow Falls Park.

  • TOTAL MILES = 1.7 (2.7kM)

Kaūmana Drive

Starting at the “Y” junction adjacent to Gilbert Carvalho Park, Highway 200 continues mauka on Kaūmana Drive and provides access to many neighbourhoods overlooking Hilo. The road is quite narrow and windy with many blind corners, hidden driveways and open drainage ditches. Just past MILE 6 is the junction with Pū‘āinakō Street Extension [2000], completed in September 2004 as a bypass of the above-mentioned windy sections. The intersection with Ua Nahele Street at MILE 8 marks the mauka terminus of Kaūmana Drive.

  • TOTAL MILES = 6.2 (9.9kM)

Saddle Road

The official start of Saddle Road is at the “T” intersection of Ua Nahele Street at MILE 8. This is the last neighbourhood through which the route will pass. As it has from its beginning in Hilo, Route 200 continues to climb towards the Humu‘ula Saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The rainforest of the Hilo Forest Reserve and Upper Waiākea Forest Reserve surround the roadway and begin to thin as the elevation increases. Quality of the asphalt surface is quite good on this side of the crest but there are many curves and rises with limited visual distances.

The terrain becomes the high lava desert of the Humu‘ula Saddle. Two roads intersect Saddle Road close to Pu‘u Huluhulu at its crest near MILE 28 at 6,632 feet (2,021 metres) above sea level:

  • Mauna Loa Observatory Road is an unmarked 17.1 mile (27.5kM) long narrow rough (but paved) road which winds its way towards a number of scientific observatories on the slopes of Mauna Loa. The road connects with the route of the Hilo-Kona Road, started in 1949 by Tom Vance, who spearheaded several civil engineering projects on-Island: he spent $1 million to build a straight road on the Hilo-Kona alignment but work stopped a year later when the work camp caught fire one night and burned everything.
  • Mauna Kea Summit Road (a/k/a John A. Burns Way) provides access to Onizuka Center for International Astronomy (elevation 9,300ft / 2,835m) then climbs Mauna Kea to the height of 13,780ft (4,200m) at grades averaging 17% making this the third highest public road in the United States. The road is 14 miles long, of which the first 6 miles (to the Onizuka Center) and the last 3 miles are paved. Pu‘u Wēkiu is the highest point in Hawai‘i at 13,796ft (4,208m) and is home to Poli‘ahu, Goddess of Snow. Many of the world's best observatories occupy the summit area and are under the jurisdiction of the University of Hawai‘i.

The entirely new six and a half mile segment from milepost 28 to 35 was dedicated and opened to traffic on May 29th, 2007 with Senator Daniel K. Inouye as the keynote speaker and other local dignitaries in attendance. The new segment is some of the best road on the island, quite a contrast to the roadway it replaced further out into the Pōhakuloa Training Area. The old section of roadway included some of the more dangerous features of the old Saddle Road. This included a sharp curve, blind corner and one way bridge near the entrance to Mauna Kea State Park that was acknowledged as one of the worst on the roadway. In contrast the new section was constructed to full federal highway standards, with wide shoulders, rumble strips, good signage and emergency phones at regular intervals.

From milepost 35 to 44 the road passes the main gates of Pōhakuloa Training Area and Bradshaw Army Airfield before continuing across the military reservation. Military vehicles — including armored personnel carriers — occasionally cross or occupy the roadway. Artillery exercises, including live fire, are not uncommon with batteries set up along the roadway firing towards Mauna Loa. This section of the road has recently been repaved (summer 2008) greatly improvong the road conditions.

From milepost 44, near Kilohana, to the Māmalahoa Highway the road retains its original character, a narrow ribbon of poorly maintained pavement with crumbling edges. There are several more one lane bridges, blind curves and hills. It is common for drivers to negotiate the center of the road to avoid the rough shoulders, moving back into the lane only when necessary to pass traffic proceeding in the opposite direction. The route is quite scenic with views of the coastline, the Hualalai and Kohala Volcanoes, winding its way across Parker Ranch and through the development of Waiki'i.

The terminus of Route 200 comes at its junction with Māmalahoa Highway [190] six miles (9.6kM) kona of Waimea.

  • TOTAL MILES = 45.7 (73.6kM)

Future plans

Construction is underway on a seven-mile stretch along the base of Mauna Kea, between mileposts 35 and 42, which is scheduled for completion in 2009. This will relocate the roadway from its current location to the Mauna Kea side of both the Pōhakuloa base facilites and Bradshaw Airfield. Also currently under way is renovation of the existing section from mileposts 19 to 28.

Other realignment proposals include a section near Kaūmana Country Club Estates as well as one that would bypass Waiki‘i and connect to Māmalahoa Highway at either MILE 15 or at the mauka terminus of Waikōloa Road. Eventual plans are to complete a section past Mamalahoa Highway down to the coast and intersecting the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway[19] to support cross island commuting by tourists and resort employees. The route for the entirely new sections of the highway are in some question as changes are needed in light of recent expansion of the military exercise areas. Completion of these projects represent a major realignment of island traffic patterns and conversion of this notorious roadway into a modern state highway.

Communities served

Junctions

State Highways are marked as [××] whilst County funded roads are with (××). Former or unmarked routes are indicated by an asterisk.
Mile Town Street Name
Ø Hilo Kamehameha Avenue / Bayfront Highway
6 Kaūmana Country Club Estates [2000] Pū‘āinakō Street Extension
27 * Mauna Loa Observatory Road
28 * Mauna Kea Summit Road
41 (201) Saddle Road (proposed)
53 Māmalahoa Highway

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