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Business owners voice concerns about the Southern Terminus of the Lahaina Bypass

By Staff | Dec 28, 2017

LAHAINA – It was initially called the Lahaina Bypass Project, a route between Puamana Park and Hanakao’o Point, and its first “Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)” was accepted by then-Governor John D. Waihee in 1991, over 26 years ago.

Its name has changed on multiple occasions, as has its configuration. Phases have faded in and out, as often as the politicians, officials and their administrations.

In its grandest course, it was a nine-mile reliever from Launiupoko to Honokowai, but no more. It’s been chopped up, redesigned, studied and spit out so many times, it is challenging to follow its flow – just like a diverted river bed.

A state byway, decisions about the critical corridor are made in offices 105 miles away in Honolulu, by directors, deputy directors and engineers who have never lived, much less driven here.

It’s an unwanted, unsolicited challenge to the people of our island (and visitors) experiencing post-traumatic traffic stress for the past three-plus decades traveling to and from the West Side along the only asphalt artery in and out of our beleaguered municipality.

Community leader May Fujiwara, who passed away earlier this year, best expressed the frustration of her fellow citizens at one of the hundreds of meetings she attended over the years: “Often times West Maui feels like a stepchild. I believe West Maui generates a great deal of revenue with the Transient Accommodations Tax; yet, we don’t seem to be getting our fair share of the road construction and/or improvements. Something needs to be done.”

The situation doesn’t seem to be improving; and, for some West Siders, it appears to be getting worse, with the announcement of the latest plans for the Southern Terminus of the Lahaina Bypass and changes to the Keawe Street intersection.

Dan Blessing of Island Cream Company, located in Lahaina Gateway Center, is leading the charge.

In an e-mail blast, he wrote to fellow area business owners, “Did you know the Hawaii Department of Transportation (DOT) is preparing to connect the newest portion of the Lahaina Bypass south of Lahaina – which will force ALL northbound traffic currently on the Honoapiilani Highway onto the bypass – and then much of the traffic will be ‘dumped’ onto Keawe Street?”

With this major potential bottleneck in mind, Blessing organized a meeting last week Wednesday (Dec. 20) with government agents invited to hear concerns and answer questions from the approximate 40-50 citizens gathered at Lahaina Gateway that morning.

As a small section of Keawe Street – from the intersection at Honoapiilani up to the carwash – is under local jurisdiction, county officials were present, including Don Couch and Zeke Kalua, representing the Mayor Alan Arakawa administration; Director David Goode, County of Maui Department of Public Works; and West Maui County Councilperson Elle Cochran.

In attendance, representing the state DOT, was Maui District Engineer Robin Shishido.

With a deadline on Friday before the Christmas weekend, responses to questions posed to officials from Lahaina News were almost next to impossible to solicit; this accounting, therefore, is mainly from a Keawe Street perspective, post-meeting style.

Ronald R. Sambrano messaged on Facebook this warning the day after the meeting: “As the most recent phase of the Lahaina Bypass nears completion, the plans widely unknown to the general public have come to light. These include closing off the current highway (30) at Cut Mountain and forcing all traffic onto the new bypass.”

“It is concerning,” Sambrano continued, “that they’d entertain this shortsighted idea of a solution that simply moves the problem and makes it worse in more critical areas. This can’t be understated. Access to businesses Lahaina residents count on daily will become nearly impossible. Families’ access to crowded school routes will become impassable. The workforce on their already labored commute to serve Lahaina will lose hours a week to severe traffic.”

Sambrano advised, “This will affect (the) quality of life for residents substantially and poorly. We need Mr. Sniffen (DOT), Ms. (Roz) Baker (Senator, Sixth District) and Mr. (Angus) McKelvey (Representative, Tenth District) to use their better judgment and power granted by their position to insist on thoughtful solutions that don’t throw us under the bus.”

Eric Stein, Extended Horizons, is of like mind. He represents the Emerald Plaza board of directors, its 28 owners and over 100 employees.

He noted, “I say the current plan to funnel highway traffic off the lower road onto the incomplete bypass must not happen.”

“I am writing you (Lahaina News) to express my alarm about the closure of the Highway at Cut Mountain and the poorly thought out plan to funnel all that traffic to the incomplete bypass and then down Keawe.”

Blessing is looking at the worst case scenario: “Every day we live with traffic not working at this intersection right now,” he observed. “When they’re talking about adding ten times or more traffic here, we have a nightmare that’s going to start.”

“How do we get in and out of the shopping center, in and out of the industrial park, in and out of Walgreens, Starbucks, Burger King and Panda Express? This involves millions and millions and millions of dollars of business and hundreds of jobs,” the anxious business owner observed.

Consumers tend to avoid inconvenience, Blessing said, and will skirt this area of the downtown Lahaina district.

“The effect on businesses will be dramatic. This is something I would love to be wrong about,” Blessing added.

David Goode was at the meeting; he was available to provide some clarity on Friday after the meeting before deadline.

“New traffic routing always takes a few months for drivers to modify and normalize their routes. During this time, DOT and the county will monitor the situation and make operational changes as necessary. Any large changes will take a year or more; smaller changes much less time,” he said.

“Ultimately, it is state DOT’s decision to open the new road: the county will do its best to adjust to DOT’s changes in regional traffic routing.”