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County may take legal action to halt Lahaina Bypass work at Keawe Street

By Staff | Jan 25, 2018

LAHAINA – If the Hawaii Department of Transportation doesn’t agree to voluntarily suspend construction at the intersection of Honoapiilani Highway and Keawe Street, the County of Maui may consider filing an injunction to halt this work tied to the Lahaina Bypass and allow time for all stakeholders to discuss possible alternatives.

The Maui County Council at press time on Friday was scheduled to discuss a resolution introduced by Kahului Councilman Don S. Guzman to urge the governor and state DOT to temporarily suspend the Honoapiilani Highway Improvements, Kapunakea to Keawe, and Lahaina Bypass Phase lB-2 Projects.

Detailed plans and maps of the proposed Lahaina Bypass are posted on the HDOT website at hidot.hawaii.gov/presentations/.

Contending that projections through 2020 show that 70 percent of cars will utilize the bypass from Olowalu to Keawe Street, the state’s latest plans propose that northbound motorists on Honoapiilani Highway be routed onto the Lahaina Bypass, Phase 1B2, at its southern terminus near the Olowalu Recycling & Refuse Convenience Center.

A 4,800-lineal-foot segment of the highway, from the entrance to the new phase of the bypass to south of Launiupoko Wayside Park, would be closed to through traffic.

HDOT Deputy Director for Highways Ed Sniffen explained, “The opening of this latest phase of the Lahaina Bypass from the vicinity of ‘Cut Mountain’ in Olowalu to Hokiokio Place protects an important portion of the coastal highway to West Maui by moving it inland while offering another route for those headed towards Kaanapali.”

He reasoned that the opening of Phase 1B2 will increase the efficiency of the two routes in the area, as motorists 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, can leave the bypass at Kai Hele Ku Street, Hokiokio Place, Lahainaluna Road or Keawe Street.

Instead, the county resolution recommends working with the governor and HDOT to retain and preserve the coastal two-way Honoapiilani Highway as a transportation thoroughfare.

At the northern terminus of the bypass, Keawe Street, a county road, would be modified to have a free right turn onto Honoapiilani Highway to accommodate the additional northbound traffic.

The resolution notes, “The project proposes eliminating an existing northbound lane on Honoapiilani Highway toward Kaanapali to add a continuous right turn lane, and increasing traffic flow onto Keawe Street by adding an additional left turn lane off of Honoapiilani Highway.”

According to the resolution, increasing the flow of traffic at the intersection of Honoapiilani Highway and Keawe Street will have critical impacts on area residents, visitors and businesses, creating gridlock and safety concerns, and also impact the feeder roads to the bypass.

Echoing Tenth District State Rep. Angus McKelvey’s position, the resolution states that previous planning documents for the bypass did not include information relating to the proposed traffic changes for sufficient public review and input.

Threatening to seek injunctive relief in court, the resolution calls for a halt to construction to allow time for all stakeholders to discuss possible alternatives.

“We’ve been meeting with community members and groups anytime there have been concerns about Phase 1B-2 and the plan for the southern terminus and how we will account for traffic volumes at the interim northern terminus at Keawe,” said Sniffen.

“We are happy to explain the rationale for our decisions, hear and process community concerns and look for adjustments that we can make within the funding and requirements the project is bound by. Councilmember Guzman’s resolution and his threat of legal action to stop a project that is already over two-thirds done and has gone through the environmental process – with the latest environmental document specifically concerning the southern terminus published in 2015 – had nothing to do with bringing HDOT to the table for these discussions. We were already there.”

Last week Wednesday, DOT Administrative Director Ford Fuchigami met with Sixth District State Sen. Roz Baker, and he joined HDOT leadership in a meeting with West Maui County Councilwoman Elle Cochran and Albert Perez. Both meetings were arranged before HDOT learned about Guzman’s resolution through the media.

Following the meeting, Baker said, “I had a very productive meeting with Administrative Director Ford Fuchigami to discuss the community’s concerns about the current bypass project and how we can work together to keep lines of communication open to address bypass concerns going forward. I shared my ideas with him for upcoming legislation, and he’s agreed to work with us and the community in a collaborative manner on these proposals.”

HDOT has repeatedly asserted that it is committed to making adjustments based on data, such as information gathered by observation of traffic patterns, after the opening of Phase 1B-2 and community feedback.

From HDOT’s perspective:

1) The Lahaina Bypass is a realignment of Honoapiilani Highway to protect the main route to and from West Maui from coastal erosion while tying into the existing highway for as long as it is operational.

2) There is no intent to cut off access to Honoapiilani Highway with the opening of the southern terminus at Olowalu. There are two complete routes between Keawe Street and Kai Hele Ku Street, and all portions of Honoapiilani Highway are accessible through the connector roads.

3) Motorists cannot safely access both Honoapiilani Highway and the bypass at the southern terminus without the installation of an interchange, a traffic signal or a roundabout. These options are not possible without additional funding, further study and environmental documentation. HDOT estimated the least expensive option, a traffic signal, would cost $10 million to $15 million.

4) Considerations for spending a large amount of money at the southern terminus include the likelihood that the existing coastal highway will be inundated by rising seas. Therefore, HDOT believes it more practical to expend resources and funding to extend the realignment.

5) The Lahaina Bypass is not considered finished after Phase 1B-2 (Hokiokio Place to the southern terminus in Olowalu). If additional funding is available, HDOT will look to build the Lahaina Bypass Phase 1C, which would extend the bypass north of Keawe Street to beyond Puukolii Road. Phase 1D would take the bypass to Kaanapali.

6) A significant need is to realign the highway between Olowalu and the Pali. HDOT is exploring options to extend the realigned highway past the southern terminus in the future at a location not impacted by high surf, coastal surges and sea level rise. The recent Hawaii Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report by the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission (climateadaptation.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/SLR-Report_Dec2017.pdf) projects that “with 3.2 feet of sea level rise, more than 11 miles of major coastal roads would become impassible, jeopardizing critical access to and from many communities.”

7) The state owned right-of-way for the Lahaina Bypass provides the land for HDOT to consider widening to four lanes in the future, should funding become available.

“I fully understand that there are many in West Maui that would like to see the construction on the realignment stopped,” said Sniffen. “However, based on the years of planning with the community and local government, we believe that the opening of the latest phase will have significant benefits for the majority of the community by providing an alternate route to and from West Maui. We also expect the opening of Phase 1B-2 will increase efficiency through the area while providing choices for those that want to go to West Maui.”

Residents recently submitted a petition opposing the new plans for the bypass to the DOT director, governor, Maui County mayor and County Councilmembers. There were 1,260 signers when the petition was submitted, and the online petition now has 1,373 names.

For more information on the Lahaina Bypass Phase 1B2, visit www.lahainabypass1b-2.com/ or hidot.hawaii.gov/presentations/.