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The Lahaina Bypass, then and now

By Staff | Nov 12, 2015

LAHAINA – What’s up with the Lahaina Bypass?

It’s been on the state Department of Transportation (SDOT) drawing board, some say, for 40 years or more.

In an informal poll of the “You know you’re from Lahaina if” Facebook group, the general consensus was that talks about the bypass road relief project began around 1977.

According to West Maui Taxpayers Association (WMTA) Board Member Joe Pluta, who was on the WMTA board in 1979, “The Lahaina Bypass was the number one priority of WMTA, who lobbied for years and who received pledges from Robert Siarot of the DOT back in 1985 that it was on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan for Maui as their number one priority for Maui.”

Its configuration has not remained constant, with the Olowalu to Honokowai route one of the earlier presentations of the approximate nine-mile corridor.

Over the years, with plenty of informational meetings and hearings held along with any number of changes in state and county administrations, the final configuration is a chop suey mix of alignments, fragments, phases and politics.

“We at the WMTA are uncertain about the actual amount and number of changes made. We do know that the Environmental Impact Statement for the entire West Maui corridor was completed and paid for by Kaanapali Development Company back in 2002. Significant historical sites noted in the EIS resulted in necessary changes accordingly,” Pluta added.

The favored WMTA alignment, the community leader added, is the Honokowai to Launiupoko route.

With the formation of the Lahaina Bypass Now action group in 2006, construction of the first phases of the phantom roadway became a reality.

Its determined president was Kaanapali resident Bob Pure.

“We ended up with a grassroots volunteer group that was totally dedicated to getting the bypass started; it was my job as president to make sure that happened,” he told the Lahaina News in a recent interview.

Construction of the first stage was completed in late March 2013. The .8-mile section extended from the Keawe Street Extension to Lahainaluna Road, including the award-winning Kahoma Stream Bridge.

Phase 1B-1 opened for vehicular use in December of that same year, completing a 1.7-mile segment extending south from Lahainaluna Road to Hokiokio Place. The price tag to taxpayers was $25.8 million.

A press release was issued by the SDOT at the time.

“Over 30 years ago, the West Maui community recognized that a Lahaina Bypass highway was needed to address traffic congestion along the existing Honoapiilani Highway through Lahaina town. Although the existing Honoapiilani Highway has since been widened from two to four lanes, land use densities have increased and traffic congestion continues to be a problem. The additional traffic capacity is needed to move people, goods and services more efficiently in and out of Lahaina now and well into the future.”

With the next phase, 1B-2, listed on the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), Lahaina News asked Sen. Roz Baker for an update.

The Hawaii Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) provides a multi-year listing of the state and county projects and identifies those projects slated for federal funding. It is a multi-modal transportation improvement program that is developed utilizing existing transportation plans and policies, and current highway, transit and transportation programming processes. The STIP delineates the funding categories and the federal and local share required for each project.

Baker told the Lahaina News: “Phase 1B-2 heads south from Hokiokio Place to the relocated southern terminus, which is near the old (Olowalu) landfill now known as the transfer station.”

“That phase is being implemented as a design-build contract executed by Central Federal Lands in partnership with SDOT and the Fed Highways Administration (FHWA).

Asked about the next phase, she said the request for Design-Build Qualifications was advertised Oct. 1, 2015, and the state expects to evaluate them this month. The short list of qualified contractors will receive a request for proposal (RFP) to be submitted in March 2016.

The Final Environmental Assessment for publication is anticipated by end of this year.

The estimated cost of the third phase is $30 to $40 million.

State transportation officials, however, were not forthcoming in providing a construction time frame for 1B-2.

Pure said it is listed on the STIP for 2020.

The phases heading north are road-blocked, with major uncertainties about construction both timing- and terminus-wise.

Although the Lahaina Bypass Now group disbanded after completion of the first two phases, Pure shed some light on the situation.

“We (the community) just have to understand the entire State of Hawaii gets approximately, this is more or less, $150 million dollars of federal funds per year to build major highway projects in all the Hawaiian Islands… 90 percent of that money goes to Oahu, because that’s where 90 percent of the people liveTo get the funding to do the bypass is a gigantic undertaking considering the amount of funds that are available,” Pure added.

“We really don’t know what is going to be done in the future,” Pure continued. “Right now, the bypass is on there (the STIP).”

However, Pure cautioned, “The STIP changes fluidly.”

“It is scheduled to go south to Olowalu around the dump area and it’s scheduled to go north. But nobody knows where exactly it’s going to go north, and where the connectors are going to be. It’s all conjecture,” he advised.

He noted the “don’t knows.”

“We don’t know whether the funding will be forthcoming. We don’t know what level of support there is in the state capitol for making the bypass a priority,” Pure said.

He was passionate about being honest. “I think you have to make sure that your readers know that this is a project that could either go faster, go slower, could be postponed, could be five years out, could be ten years out; we don’t know. It’s all about federal funding, and the state has to add their 20 percent,” he said.

“It’s mainly about getting the federal funding. In Washington right now, they can’t even get a transportation bill passed. So we don’t know if those funds are in jeopardy; we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“My bottom line is we’ll watch it and see where it goes. I hope this 2020 is a real date, but we don’t know,” Pure concluded.