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Lahaina Bypass presentation, hearing set for Monday

By Staff | Jan 18, 2018

2018 will be a busy year, and I wanted to highlight two of the many important issues we are tackling in my office.

Keawe Street: This February, the state wants to redirect all Lahaina-bound traffic onto the new portion of the bypass at Cut Mountain and close the current portion of the highway to through traffic. In doing so, they are going to force all traffic onto Keawe Street, which is already dangerous and congested. Keawe Street is a county road with high pedestrian traffic, no crosswalks and a deteriorating train track that is causing vehicle damage. This increased traffic is going to make the Keawe Street situation more dangerous and unbearable for residents, visitors and the businesses that operate there.

The Environmental Impact Statement for this project is outdated, from the 1990s, and the plans have been made by people who have seemingly never watched traffic in that area. I have made numerous attempts to reach decision-makers at the state Department of Transportation with no success. I enlisted help from Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who was also unable to set up a meeting with anyone. I will continue to do everything I can to convince the state to rework their plan, after becoming more familiar with the current local traffic conditions. I would like to see the state leave the highway as-is, and continue expanding the bypass North, so more traffic can truly “bypass” Lahaina.

I will schedule a presentation and hearing on this topic in the Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee on Monday, Jan. 22, at 1:30 p.m. We are inviting representatives from the county Department of Public Works and the state Department of Transportation to attend, and the public is invited to give input as well.

You can testify in person at the beginning of the meeting or send comments by e-mail to iem.committee@mauicounty.us (please reference item IEM-57).

Sustainable Tourism Legislation: As Maui continues to set new records of visitor arrivals, there is a growing and valid concern about how much growth is too much. We all want to make sure our visitor industry remains an important part of our economy, and that Maui maintains it’s No Ka ‘Oi status, while ensuring that our infrastructure keeps up with demand and our local workforce maintains a good standard of living.

Conversations around sustainable tourism and carrying capacity are more important than ever, and I intend to introduce legislation to facilitate a solution.

With a goal to maintain high standards for our current numbers of visitors and residents, I will propose that we establish a cap on the addition of any new tourist accommodation units until Maui’s ailing water, sewer and traffic infrastructure needs are met. This would be a pause on the issuance of permits for construction or the operation of any NEW tourist accommodations, including hotel and timeshare units, Transient Vacation Rentals and Bed & Breakfasts until specified infrastructure and policy upgrades are met.

There are increasing calls from the community to cap tourist numbers, or the numbers of rental cars available on Maui, and after careful consideration, I believe that placing a cap on the number of tourist accommodation units will accomplish those goals without negatively affecting the ability of our existing resorts and accommodation-providers to remain at capacity.

All of the infrastructure and policy upgrades required to be completed before the cap is lifted are 100 percent community-driven. They come directly from Community Plans, Maui Island Plan, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s evolving transportation goals. They include things like: re-alignment of Honoapiilani Highway, completion of a Paia Relief Route, transitioning away from wastewater injection wells, development of upgraded regulations to prevent land-based sediment pollution of nearshore waters, efficient enforcement of short-term rental regulations, and creation and implementation of a specific plan to create truly affordable housing for our workforce.

I believe that this is a common sense way to slow the growth of our tourist industry while encouraging the county and state to take action based on our existing Community Plans that are the result of thousands of hours of community input.

The timing for this kind of legislation is now. The Maui Island Plan says that we should: “Promote a desirable island population by striving to not exceed an island-wide visitor population of roughly 33% of the resident population.” Visitors currently make up 35-36 percent of our population, with projections for growth over the next few years. Maui has an extremely low unemployment rate of 3 percent, so there is no real need for job growth in the visitor industry.

If you would like more information about this proposed legislation, or e-mail notification when a hearing is scheduled, please e-mail me at elle.cochran@mauicounty.us.