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View of the Old Pali Road

Helen G. Chapin, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society

The idea of building a Pali tunnel first appeared in 1852! The Polynesian, a popular newspaper of the day stated, “O‘ahu residents will never be satisfied till a tunnel is dug through the Pali, suitable for the passage of carts and wagons.”

The unsatisfied public wanted improvements made to the ancient, steep, and winding trail that served as a passage through the Ko‘olau Mountains from Nu‘uanu on the Honolulu side to the fertile windward side of O‘ahu. The trail was used by farmers for bringing produce for sale to the growing port city and for carrying purchases back.

The Pali trail was widened to a road for horses and small vehicles in 1862 — but there were continuing complaints. In 1896 the legislature authorized the paving of the road after it was further widened with dynamite. A young engineer named Johnny Wilson headed up the successful project. (Wilson would later serve as the mayor of Honolulu.) Another widening after 1900 allowed for automobiles and trucks to traverse the road.

There were plans to build a tunnel before World War II, but the war forced a postponement. Anticipating the event, a hapa-haole song was written, entitled “When They Build the Puka Through the Pali.” Construction began in the mid-1950s. A tunnel was opened to one-way traffic in May of 1957 and to two-way traffic on August 1, 1961. Mrs. Jennie Wilson, the mayor’s widow, led the dedication ceremonies. The long-held dream of a Pali tunnel was brought to reality.