Lahaina bypass segment complete, open to traffic

More than three decades in the making, the Lahaina bypass highway opened to traffic Wednesday.

The first part of the long-planned, long-awaited 9-mile highway, aimed at helping drivers avoid the congestion on Honoapiilani Highway in the Lahaina town area, is a mere 0.8 miles from Lahainaluna Road to the Keawe Street extension.

Length isn’t everything.

“This first phase of the Lahaina bypass highway construction is truly a monumental milestone,” said Caroline Sluyter, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, on Wednesday.

A key piece of this first phase was the construction of the 360-foot-long Kahoma Stream Bridge, which itself cost $24.3 million to build, she noted. The bridge, completed in December, spans the Kahoma Stream gulch and is designed with an inverted arch structure.

The first phase has a $77 million price tag – with the federal government putting in $61.6 million and the state $15.4 million.

The big beneficiaries of this first phase are the students, parents, teachers and other staff of Princess Nahienaena Elementary, Lahaina Intermediate and Lahainaluna High schools and residents in the Lahainaluna Road area, who have another way out, said Bob Pure of the now dissolved Lahaina Bypass Now, a community-based organization that pushed the building of the highway.

Lahainaluna Road, which was the only access to and from the schools and the residential community from the main artery of Honoapiilani Highway, was congested at the beginning and the ending of the school day, noted Angus McKelvey, the state representative for the west side.

Those coming and going to the Napili side of Lahainaluna Road will now have another way to exit and enter the area, avoiding the infamous intersection of Lahainaluna Road and Honoapiilani Highway, he said.

The little phase of the bypass also gives residents another way out of the area in case of fire. That danger spurred the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye to garner federal funds for the project.

“He saw the dry brush,” said McKelvey of Inouye’s visit to the area. “He could see clearly the huge risk. It was a big motivator.”

Pure pointed out in an email that the completion of the first phase does not really make the bypass a bypass yet. The next phase, which will take the bypass 1.7 miles from Lahainaluna Road to Hokiokio Place in Puamana, is set to be completed by mid-year, said McKelvey.

“When that happens, the road will become a true bypass as motorists will now be able to ‘bypass’ all four streets in Lahaina town and all four traffic lights,” said Pure in his email. “So, until June, the students, teachers and residents on Lahainaluna Road will be the big beneficiaries of the first phase of the bypass. . . . In June, everyone will benefit, as a new era, a much anticipated new era, will finally be here for Lahaina residents and visitors alike.”

It was Pure and Lahaina ByPass Now that were credited with working collaboratively with the state, lawmakers and the community “to overcome many challenges that (have) eventually resulted in the project finally moving forward after three decades,” Sluyter said.

The group that formed in 2006 dissolved at the end of 2012.

Although Sluyter said the need for the bypass was recognized more than 30 years ago, McKelvey believes it was closer to 40 years ago. The lawmaker said he remembers attending a meeting in 1974 about the bypass.

The bypass was needed to deal with traffic congestion on Honoapiilani Highway through Lahaina town, said Sluyter. Although Honoapiilani Highway has been widened from two to four lanes over the years, growth in the area continued to make traffic congestion a problem.

McKelvey noted that a federal environmental impact statement was recently approved for the road to reach to Olowalu. He credited Inouye, the late state Rep. Robert Nakasone, the mayoral administrations of Alan Arakawa and Charmaine Tavares and others with making a decades-old dream a reality on Wednesday.

“We are finally making it happen,” he said.

“When you get everybody synchronized together we can make good things happen,” McKelvey added.

* Lee Imada can be reached at