State DOT fires back against McKelvey’s by­pass crit­i­cisms

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - By LEE IMADA Man­ag­ing Edi­tor

The state Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion on Thursday took is­sue with West Maui Rep. An­gus Mc Kelvey’s crit­i­cisms of the depart­ment’s plans for the new­est phase of the La­haina by­pass and the ad­just­ments made at the north­ern end of the by­pass as traf­fic flows to Honoapi­ilani High­way at Keawe Street.

In a let­ter to Gov. David Ige on Mon­day, McKelvey asked Ige to call a “time­out” on work on the by­pass to pre­vent a “detri­men­tally pro­found and neg­a­tive im­pact” on West Maui traf­fic. He com­plained about a “last-minute” pro­posal to re­move an ex­ist­ing north­bound lane on Honoapi­ilani High­way at Keawe Street and the lack of com­ment from the public on the changes.

In re­spond­ing to “in­ac­cu­rate state­ments” by McKelvey, Ed Snif­fen, deputy director of the high­ways divi­sion, coun­tered that the 2.6-mile ex­ten­sion of the by­pass from Hokiokio Place to “cut moun­tain” near Olowalu “pro­tects an im­por­tant por­tion of the coastal high­way to West Maui by mov­ing it in­land while of­fer­ing an­other route for those headed to­wards Kaana­pali.”

Snif­fen said the open­ing of the phase “will in­crease ef­fi­ciency of the two routes in the area as those that want to go from Olowalu to Keawe Street will no longer have to go through beach and neigh­bor­hood traf­fic.”

“Those want­ing to go into La­haina town or to ac­cess the beach will have sev­eral op­tions to do so from the by­pass,” he said.

With the $38.7 mil­lion project near­ing com­ple­tion, pos­si­bly in March, the depart­ment projects that 70 per­cent of cars will uti­lize the by­pass from Olowalu to Keawe Street by 2020, the news re­lease said.

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the in­creased traf­fic, the depart­ment said it is plan­ning mod­i­fi­ca­tions at the in­ter­sec­tion of Honoapi­ilani High­way and Keawe Street, “which serves as the in­terim north­ern ter­mi­nus” of the by­pass.

This in­cludes hav­ing a free right

lane on Keawe Street onto Honoapi­ilani High­way to ac­com­mo­date the Kaana­pal­i­bound traf­fic, the depart­ment said. In or­der to do this, the depart­ment’s plan is to al­low only one of two cur­rent lanes of Honoapi­ilani High­way as it ap­proaches Keawe Street from the south to go through. The other lane will be­come a right turn onto Keawe Street.

McKelvey said in his let­ter to Ige that this will force ve­hi­cles, un­able to merge onto the only through lane on Honoapi­ilani High­way, to have to “loop around the en­tire town of La­haina to re­merge.”

The depart­ment re­sponded by say­ing that drivers headed to­ward Honoapi­ilani High­way at the Keawe Street in­ter­sec­tion who are un­able to ac­cess the one through lane “can turn around on one of Keawe’s side streets or re-en­ter Honoapi­ilani through one of the south­ern con­nec­tor roads, such as La­hainaluna Road, Hokiokio Place, Kai Hele Ku Street or the south con­nec­tor road.”

There were dis­cus­sions with the com­mu­nity on the plans for the Keawe Street in­ter­sec­tion, the depart­ment said. Snif­fen and other trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials met with the West Maui Tax­pay­ers As­so­ci­a­tion in early De­cem­ber to dis­cuss con­cerns and po­ten­tial so­lu­tions. The depart­ment agreed to work with the com­mu­nity on ad­just­ments after the in­ter­sec­tion and the new phase of the by­pass be­come op­er­a­tional.

“This was in ad­di­tion to the public meet­ings held over the decades since the La­haina by­pass was first con­ceived of,” the depart­ment news re­lease said. “The lat­est of these meet­ings were held in 2007 and 2015.”

Joe Pluta, WMTA vice pres­i­dent/trea­surer, said depart­ment of­fi­cials at that meet­ing in early De­cem­ber were “very cor­dial and very nice, (but) just be­cause we had this meet­ing it does not solve the prob­lem.”

None of their sug­ges­tions were adopted, he said. This in­cluded turn­ing the by­pass at Keawe Street into north­bound­only and hav­ing south­bound traf­fic stay on Honoapi­ilani High­way, which would re­quire no changes at the Keawe Street in­ter­sec­tion, he said.

Pluta said that once the depart­ment has its de­signs and fund­ing “noth­ing is go­ing to change.”

“It’s lip ser­vice,” he said. “It’s self-serv­ing to say ‘we met with them.’ Noth­ing changed.”

He was par­tic­u­larly “dis­gusted” by the depart­ment’s com­ment that ve­hi­cles un­able to merge into the sin­gle through lane would be able to turn around on Keawe Street side streets. It is dif­fi­cult to cross Keawe Street from the La­haina Gate­way to get to the Wal­greens with ve­hi­cles speed­ing down off the by­pass, he said.

“That is not a vi­able op­tion,” Pluta said. “If they lived in West Maui, they wouldn’t have made that state­ment.”

He said this is a de­ci­sion be­ing made on Oahu and that the WMTA pushed for con­struc­tion of the La­haina-toKaana­pali phase be­fore the Olowalu-to-Hokiokio Place phase. That would have made the high­way a true “by­pass” of La­haina town from Pua­mana to Kaana­pali, he said.

How­ever, depart­ment of­fi­cials were try­ing to be “clever” by build­ing the south­ern phase first to help re­solve ero­sion is­sues along Honoapi­ilani High­way, Pluta said.

A depart­ment spokes­woman did not offer much hope for the con­struc­tion of the Keawe Street-to-Kaana­pali phase. Depart­ment spokes­woman Shelly Ku­n­ishige said that the phase would be built “if fund­ing be­comes avail­able” but that cur­rent funds are be­ing pri­or­i­tized for safety and road re­pairs.

“In other words, it doesn’t make sense to build new roads if we can’t main­tain the roads we have,” she said.

There is a lot of op­po­si­tion to the Keawe Street plan, and a depart­ment of­fi­cial at­tend­ing the WMTA meet­ing Tues­day “was get­ting an ear­ful from peo­ple who are very up­set and an­gry,” Pluta said.

Keawe Street was not de­signed to han­dle the cur­rent traf­fic, let alone an in­crease in ve­hi­cles, he said. The depart­ment’s plan ex­poses the state to li­a­bil­ity from ac­ci­dents and fa­tal­i­ties.

“The peo­ple of Maui . . . are not sign­ing off on this,” Pluta said. “This was a de­ci­sion not made by the peo­ple.”

The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A Maui Bus turns off Honoapi­ilani High­way and onto Keawe Street in La­haina last month. Some res­i­dents and busi­ness op­er­a­tors are con­cerned about in­creased traf­fic con­ges­tion at the high­way’s Keawe Street in­ter­sec­tion, where im­prove­ments are planned.

The Maui News MATTHEW THAYER photo

Mo­torists make their way up and down the north­ern por­tion of the La­haina by­pass last month as the sun sets over the island of Lanai. This by­pass seg­ment is mauka of the La­haina Gate­way and the in­ter­sec­tion of Keawe Street and Honoapi­ilani High­way.

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