Sometimes one topic I am researching sends me off on a tangent. That happened recently when I was researching Pat’s at Punaluu. I found out the Koolau Railway came from Kahuku to Punaluu but that James B. Castle wanted to continue it to Waimanalo and then through a tunnel into Manoa Valley 100 years ago.
I knew Manoa had been considered in the 1940s for a vehicular tunnel, but not for a train! That got me looking into other proposed automobile tunnels and led to today’s column.
For now I’m not including shorter tunnels, such as the H-3 Hospital Rock Tunnels behind the Kaneohe State Hospital. Nor am I looking at water tunnels or those constructed by the military, such as the Diamond Head Kahala Tunnel, built at Fort Ruger in 1943.
I was able to learn about 14 proposed vehicular tunnels in Hawaii. Only five of them were built. Can you name them?
The tunnels we did build:
It might surprise many readers to learn that the first two vehicular tunnels in Hawaii were not on Oahu.
Grove Farm built the 2,100-foot-long Wilcox Tunnel on Kauai in 1949 and named it after entrepreneur George Wilcox. It connected Koloa to Haiku and provided a more direct route from cane fields to the mill. It was not intended for the public to use.
Two groups of laborers began at each end and, when they met, were less than 6 inches off their mark. Since the demise of sugar, the tunnel has been gated and is sometimes used by recreational tours.
Lahaina Pali Tunnel
Maui built Hawaii’s first public “Puka in the Pali” car tunnel in 1951. It’s on Hawaii Route 30, also known as Honoapiilani Highway, on the road to Lahaina, near Olowalu.
It’s fairly short — just 315 feet long — but eliminated 115 sharp curves in the road. Maui officials gloated, when it opened, that Oahu was still debating which trans-Koolau route to take.
Kalihi to Kaneohe (Wilson Tunnel, 1958-61)
Following World War II and statehood, our population boomed, and more and more families bought cars. Planners scrambled to keep up.
At the time, you could drive over the Pali. But Windward residents dreamed of a “Puka through the Pali.”
As early as 1941, three routes were considered: Kalihi, Nuuanu and Manoa. Which should be first?
Many felt Kalihi should be built first, as traffic could continue over the Pali. Building a Pali tunnel would require closing parts of Pali Road.
Mayor John Wilson pushed for the Kalihi route first because Nuuanu is prone to heavy rain and rockslides. If the Pali tunnel was built first and then closed due to rockslides, that would be a disaster for commuters, he said. Sixty- eight years later we’re seeing he was right.
In 1952 the state proposed construction of the Wilson Tunnels through Kalihi Valley. There would be two 2,700-foot-long tunnels, built one after the other.
Some parts of the plans never came to pass. Upon exiting on the Windward side, the road would go left to Kaneohe, as it does today. However, within a half-mile the plan was for a full loop to allow motorists to turn and head east to Kailua, if they desired, eventually joining Kailua Road.
Both approach roads could be used by Honolulu- bound motorists.
That idea was scrapped, although the H-3 does approximate that Kailua-bound route behind Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden.
A parking area on the Kaneohe side for viewing was built but soon closed when it turned out to be too dangerous for cars on the highway.
The tunnel would angle downhill from Kalihi to the Windward side at a 6 percent grade. Because of that, construction had to begin on the Kaneohe side so water runoff could drain away from the work.
The tunnels curve slightly so that it would not be possible to see both ends at the same time, reducing glare for motorists.
The tunnels were named for Mayor John Wilson, who was a contractor for Nuuanu Pali Road in 1898. Building the Likelike was the main goal of his administration. The highway was named for Miriam Likelike, a sister to King Kalakaua and Queen Lili‘uokalani.
Originally, the City Planning Commission intended to call it Kaahumanu Highway, but that name was already proposed for a Maui roadway.
In 1958 traffic flowed for the first time through the first-completed tunnel, one way to Honolulu from 6 to 8 a.m. and one way to Kaneohe from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. It was closed on weekends and holidays, leaving the old Pali Road as the only route over the Koolau.
Both of the Wilson Tunnels were operational on a 24-hour basis in November 1960. On an average day, 31,000 cars use them.
Downtown to Kaneohe and Kailua (Pali Tunnels, 1957-1961)
The first Pali road was a footpath in the 1800s that was expanded many times. For a long time it was the only alternative to a extensive trek around Koko Head or Kahuku to the Windward side.
Nuuanu Highway, as it was originally called, was planned to come down a widened Nuuanu Avenue to downtown, as it had always done. But the Royal Mausoleum, Mauna Ala, was in the way and could not be touched, so planners had to veer east and blast through some of Pacific Heights and onto what had been Fort Street.
The two tunnels are about 1,500 feet long. Over 42,000 cars use them each day.
H-3 Halawa to Haiku (Tetsuo Harano Tunnels, 1997)
Connecting Pearl Harbor to the Marine base at Kaneohe Bay was a military dream for decades. Which route to take proved contentious, and many valleys were considered before Halawa and Haiku were chosen.
The two tunnels are about a mile long and were named for Tetsuo Harano, a former state Department of Transportation administrator. They were briefly renamed for former Gov. John Burns but restored to the original name by Gov. Linda Lingle. The H-3 is called the John A. Burns Freeway. Over 49,000 cars traverse it each day.
The tunnels considered
Waimanalo via Manoa, Palolo, Aina Haina, Niu, Kuliouou or Hawaii Kai tunnels
State planners in the 1950s believed that Honolulu’s population was expanding southward toward Waikiki, making a Manoa tunnel more logical than Nuuanu and Kalihi.
Other possible routes they considered were through Palolo, Aina Haina, Niu or Kuliouou! Mayor Wilson in 1951 said this would allow visitors to more easily visit Waimanalo beaches, which he said were the most beautiful in the world.
In 1959 Mayor Neal Blaisdell said that in time a Waimanalo Tunnel ”will be necessary, but I don’t think we’re quite ready for it.”
Henry Kaiser also proposed a tunnel to Waimanalo, as early as 1946, through what would become Hawaii Kai. In 1961 the state House of Representatives considered the possibility of a 4,000-foot toll road tunnel going through either Hahaione Valley or Kamilonui Valley.
A 40-cent toll-road tunnel would save five miles of driving and also take traffic off the scenic route, Kaiser said.
Pali Highway to UH
Panos Prevedouros, professor of transportation engineering at the University of Hawaii, proposed this tunnel in 2012 to alleviate H-1 congestion. One tunnel could provide two lanes in each direction, he said.
Wahiawa to Nanakuli
Nanakuli resident Mariano Tabali Sr. suggested another tunnel in 1959, connecting Wahiawa and Nanakuli. Maili, Nanakuli and Waianae were neglected and needed a four-lane highway, he said.
Leeward residents have been clamoring for such an alternative for decades. May I suggest we begin work on the “Tabali Tunnel” ASAP?
Honolulu to Ewa Beach
In the late 1960s a tunnel under the entrance to Pearl Harbor was proposed by the state House of Representatives to help leeward commuters get to town more quickly. It could shave 30- 40 minutes off their commute, some felt.
DOT Director Fujio “Fudge” Matsuda said the tunnel would be 7,000 feet long and cost over $750 million (in today’s dollars).
High maintenance costs, vulnerability to tidal wave inundation and Navy objections sank the idea then, but it gets resurrected every now and then.
So that’s 14 vehicular tunnels, by my count. Five were built and nine never made it. Imagine how our communities would be altered if different choices were made!
>> Koloa to Puhi (Kauai)
>> Lahaina Pali Tunnel (Maui)
>> Kalihi to Kaneohe (Wilson Tunnel)
>> Nuuanu to Kailua (Pali Highway)
>> Halawa to Kaneohe (H-3, Harano Tunnel)
>> Manoa to Waimanalo
>> Palolo to Waimanalo
>> Aina Haina to Waimanalo
>> Niu to Waimanalo
>> Kuliouou to Waimanalo
>> Hawaii Kai to Waimanalo
>> Pali Highway to UH
>> Wahiawa to Nanakuli
>> Honolulu to Ewa Beach (under Pearl Harbor)
A parking area on the Kaneohe side of the Pali was built but soon closed when it turned out to be too dangerous. An earlier version of this column said the parking area was planned but never built.
Have a comment, question or suggestion? Contact Bob Sigall, author of the five “The Companies We Keep” books, at Sigall@Yahoo.com.