The Maui News - Weekender

A game of chicken


In old movies, hot-rodders race straight toward each other in a test of wills known as “playing chicken.” The first driver to swerve from the head-on collision is deemed a “chicken.”

That is how the state Department of Education’s refusal to build a grade-separated pedestrian crossing for Kulanihako‘i High School has felt in Kihei. Though they agreed to the requiremen­t set by the Land Use Commission in 2013, the DOE and its partners with the state Department of Transporta­tion Highways Division bet year after year, meeting after meeting, that they could duck that commitment. Well, the longawaite­d school was ready to open this month and new Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen refused to swerve.

“The county will not be issuing a temporary certificat­e of occupancy at this time and will be working very closely with the Department of Education to systematic­ally get through the required steps,” Bissen said in a statement released by the DOE earlier this month.

As frustratin­g as this delay is for Kulanihako‘i students, parents and staff, it is an opportunit­y for the state to finally come together with the county to find the best solution possible.

We were disappoint­ed to learn at last fall’s informatio­nal meeting presented by the DOE that the crossing would be exclusivel­y for school use. Why not share this safety resource with the community as a whole? Pedestrian­s and bikers already go under Piilani Highway’s Waipuilani Bridge to access the area that includes the HighTech Park, Maui Brewing Co. and Kihei Charter High School. Anything that makes Kihei more walkable and bikeable, as well as safer, is a step forward.

The proposed pedestrian walkway beneath Waipuilani Bridge is a viable solution, though building the infrastruc­ture to get students to the location will likely end up being far more costly and involved than the walkway under the bridge itself.

As for the possibilit­y of an overpass, we are intrigued by a vacant lot directly across the highway from the school. The makai parcel is on a crown of land that is already grade-separated from the highway. A pedestrian overpass could be sited there where stairs or switchback­s would not be necessary, making it the type of elevated walkway that experts say actually get used.

The lot has close access to a truncated spur of Kenolio Road, which will someday be part of Kihei’s much-needed north-south collector road. This would be a far safer approach for kids than along Piilani Highway. The lot could become a school drop-off circle and community parking lot for joggers and bikers.

That is one idea. We know Kihei community leaders are exploring a variety of ways to get students and staff to school safely, including designing paths for those who live mauka of the highway.

The days of playing chicken are over. It is time for a comprehens­ive approach and a willingnes­s to do more than meet a minimum requiremen­t.

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