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West Maui residents voice ideas for traffic solutions at community plan meeting

By Staff | Sep 21, 2017

LAHAINA – When planning for the future of West Maui, there are two major concerns confronting our quality of life: traffic gridlock and lack of housing.

This is a known; cannot be disputed. No matter what your age, ethnicity or economic station, we all have experienced the consequences of these two major, interconnected West Side frustrations.

With affordable/workforce housing unavailable, teachers are difficult to recruit; so the education of our children comes into question.

Visitors miss their flights; employees can’t get to work. Our pocketbooks are impacted when accidents and fires block the free flow of our two-lane artery in out and of West Maui.

It colors every part of our lives, inside and out, day and night and on and off the highway. It cannot be avoided; it’s in your face.

At the West Maui Community Plan Transportation Meeting held at the West Maui Senior Center in Lahaina last week Tuesday, a hopeful force gathered together to learn about potential much-longed for and desperately needed answers to fix these two seemingly insurmountable roadblocks.

Additionally, testimony was shared and solutions offered from residents with firsthand knowledge about this ongoing and apparently endless situation.

Panelists addressing the tough audience were Ford Fuchigama, director of the State of Hawaii Department of Transportation (DOT); Ed Sniffen, deputy director of the DOTHighways Division; Lauren Armstrong, executive director of the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization; Lisa Paulson, executive director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association; and Don Medeiros, County of Maui director of transportation.

Power points of their presentations are posted on wearemaui.org.

After the meeting, Lahaina News interviewed a cross-section of attendees.

For the past ten years, Kaanapali resident Bob Pure has been the community traffic specialist, including service on the Lahaina Bypass Now panel as president.

He was critical of Fuchigama’s on- and off-screen performance.

“At Tuesday’s meeting,” Pure described, “the DOT director put power point financial data up on the screen, with a level of detail that we really didn’t need.

“People were there to find out what the traffic fixes are for West Maui. They didn’t need to go through a 15-minute presentation of all the financial problems that the DOT has.

“The director was defensive and kept repeating ‘we (the DOT) don’t have the money to resolve major traffic issues on Maui.’ “

“That is absolutely false,” Pure maintained. “It is simply not true. The DOT, every year, gets approximately $150 million in Federal Highway Funds. The DOT has the money. The DOT director has total discretion as to where that money is going to be spent. He can choose any items on the State STIP (a list of federally eligible projects).”

Pure further explained, “The DOT director, to conform to what he believes was a good financial plan, made a recent decision to kill all large road projects in the State of Hawaii and concentrate on small infrastructure projects. Now, that is the decision he personally made; it was not mandated.”

Napili resident Amy Stephens shared Pure’s prognosis of Fuchigama’s presentation: “The money is there. Maui has the economy of a small country, and clearly this is not a priority for any of our elected officials.”

Sniffen, in his power point, followed Fuchigama with an update on the status of the current phase of the traffic alleviator. It is posted on the Internet at lahainabypass1b-2.com.

This two-lane, 2.7-mile extension of the Lahaina Bypass runs from Hokiokio Place to within the “vicinity of Olowalu” and costs an estimated $38.7 million.

The realignment is significant.

Just like up north from Honokowai to Kapalua, there will be an upper and lower road from Hokiokio Place south.

All of the traffic in and out of West Maui will be funneled to the bypass.

Access to the beaches will be both from Hokiokio Place or Kai Hele Ku Street.

From Launiupoko to Cut Mountain a master plan is proposed – to move the “lower roadway” to the cane haul road, leaving more room makai for recreational purposes.

According to community activist Tiare Lawrence, “Currently, the DOT plan is to put a gate at Cut Mountain to force all of the traffic up on the bypass.

“There will be adequate (makai) access,” Lawrence assured the Lahaina News.

“The goal is to create better and safer beach access for residents,” she said.

“The plus side of this,” Lawrence continued, “is you will hardly have anybody pressing the button to cross the street to the beach at Kai Hele Ku.

“The whole point of the bypass is to alleviate traffic,” the born and raised Lahaina lady voiced, “and we all know that the stoplight at Launiupoko is the reason for a lot of the backup.”

Lahainaluna High School teacher Jeremy Delos Reyes is skeptical about this realignment.

“With that plan, we are not alleviating traffic – we are actually creating more traffic. (In the previous plan of that section of the bypass) We went from two separate roadways to get in and out of Lahaina, back down to one roadway,” he said.

Lawrence has an outside of the box suggestion to mitigate traffic congestion and to get the DOT back on track.

“I offered the idea of a transponder system in all rental cars. This would allow the DOT to charge visitors a minimal fee when using the Hana and Honoapiilani Highways especially.

“We are one storm away from being cut off. Funding is the issue, so I would like to see the state consider it as a source. It’s better to plan ahead before disaster strikes. Similar systems are used on the continent and throughout the world and would provide the $80 million needed to realign Honoapiilani Highway to Ukumehame,” she said.

Then money for the final phase of the bypass would be available.

Pure is a strong advocate of constructing the bypass north to south and not partway: “My feeling is, if the bypass is completed north to Kaanapali, it will go a long way to alleviating West Maui’s traffic problems.”

Pure has an original concept for traffic mitigation from Ukumehame to Maalaea along the Pali – something heretofore considered way out-of-reach.

“It has been a subject that has been discussed over and over in the 15 years that I’ve been here on Maui. There never really has been a good and financially feasible solution. Right now, when you put numbers to it, which the state has done – all major roads on Maui are state roads, not county, and are 80 percent federal and 20 percent state funded – to do something on the Pali, whether you’re talking about a tunnel or light rail or four lanes, will probably cost upwards of a half-a-billion dollars, maybe more.

“In my opinion, that is not going to happen in the next 100 years,” Pure advised, “and the DOT agrees. So I recommended to the DOT deputy director that one thing we can do that is feasible and done at a reasonable cost that could work for us right away is to create a third ‘contraflow’ lane on the Pali, and the DOT deputy director agrees with me that this could be a viable solution on the Pali.”

The contraflow lane would also include the tunnel, Pure added.

“The director said their engineers could figure out a way to deal with the tunnel and make it work,” Pure said.

One of the most complicated and yet simplest of fixes was voiced by Stephens. She lives eight minutes from her workplace in Kaanapali.

“I think that affordable rentals and affordable housing is the most important thing we can focus on, because that is the way to get people out of their cars and off the Pali,” she said.

In any case, the numbers at the senior center attending the meeting last week were impressive.

Lawrence is optimistic: “I hope more local residents will get involved with the West Maui Community Plan. It gives us an opportunity to have a voice and be involved in Lahaina’s future.”

Delos Reyes noted that more young people are involved in this round of West Side community planning.

“The next generation is stepping in because it’s not about what I going to gain or what we gonna get for our lifetime; it’s gonna be what everybody should have the opportunity for the next ten, 20, 30 generations.”

The greater public is urged to participate.

The next Maui Planning Department open house will be held on Saturday, Sept. 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the West Maui Senior Center. The focus will be on community design.

In a press release, the county announced, “The public is invited to provide feedback on housing options, redevelopment opportunities, walking and biking improvements and other topics that are important to creating livable communities.”

For more information on the West Maui Community Plan update, visit www.wearemaui.org.