DOT officials say it could be several more years until bypass does its job

It seems like traffic along Honoapiilani Highway to and from West Maui won’t get any lighter for at least several more years until more of the Lahaina bypass is complete, state Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday.

“There are too many cars on the road,” said Ferdinand Cajigal, engineering program manager for the DOT Highways Maui District Office.

He added that even with the bypass “it won’t solve the whole problem.”

Issues surrounding Honoapiilani Highway traffic, speed limits on various state highways, improvements to Maui’s small harbors, labeling of genetically modified organisms and other issues were addressed by members of Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s Cabinet at a “Cabinet in Your Community” discussion session Wednesday evening in the University of Hawaii Maui College’s Bypass Ike Lea Auditorium, which is in the school’s new science building.

Prior to the session, Abercrombie said his administration was not to be “Oahu-centric,” although sometimes it is by “default.”

But he and state Budget Director Kalbert Young, a former Maui County Department of Finance director, said the Neighbor Islands are not forgotten.

Abercrombie also took note of Young, formerly of Maui, and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, a Waiehu resident, who are on his staff and were present at the Wednesday event.

Other Cabinet attendees included Department of Agriculture Chairman Russell Kokubun, State Energy Administrator Mark Glick, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Chairwoman Jobie Masagatani, Department of Health Director Loretta Fuddy, DOH Deputy Director of Environmental Health Administration Gary Gill, Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila Jr., DOT Director Glenn Okimoto, DOT Deputy Director of Airports Ford Fuchigami and DOT Deputy Director of Harbors Randy Grune.

At least 125 people attended the session, which had participants gather in groups with the directors they wanted to speak to. Participants had about a half an hour to ask questions of the administrators, then there was another 30 minutes devoted to “hot topics.” For example, the departments of Health and Agriculture discussed cane burning and labeling of food with GMOs. The administration of Hawaiian Home Lands addressed its Maui issues.

The Maui crowd appeared attentive and polite for the most part, compared with reports of the Cabinet members’ visit last year to Kauai, where they were greeted with boos and were yelled at by GMO protesters and those against the controversial Public Land Development Corp.

There was one man who spoke passionately and loudly Wednesday night while addressing issues including Native Hawaiian rights to the DHHL and the DLNR.

Also during the sessions, scribes recorded the issues raised. That information will be compiled for the departments, which will supplement the notes to provide context to what was discussed. The information will be forwarded to those who attended the session. The information will be posted on the governor’s website as soon as it is complete, officials said. There was no deadline mentioned.

After the session, Abercrombie seemed pleased.

“This turned out to be an excellent format,” he told the remaining members of the audience.

But, he said, maybe there will be changes to the logistics of the talk-story sessions, noting there were a lot of people and at times different groups’ conversations encroached on others.

On Thursday, Abercrombie spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy said in an email that perhaps for the future, there would be separate rooms for breakout sessions to encourage discussions and conversations rather than speeches or grandstanding.

The email said that the meeting on Kauai coincided with “the heated opinions, at that time, regarding the Public Land Development Corporation.”

But on Wednesday, “both the audience and format resulted in an evening of a productive and informative dialogue.”

In the group session with transportation officials, one West Maui resident asked if the traffic signal at Launiupoko is really warranted.

Cajigal maintained that it is warranted and that a study was done prior to its installation. With a parking lot across from the already busy Launiupoko Beach Park and surfers crossing the highway to get to the beach, pedestrians use the traffic signal crosswalk, and there is no way to control when pedestrians push the walk button that triggers a red light for motorists, he said.

The traffic light is allowed to be green for the maximum time of four minutes that is allowed before it has to turn red, if needed, he said.

State DOT Highways Maui Assistant District Engineer/Construction Engineer Charlene Shibuya added that at times there’s just a “perfect storm” for traffic to back up along Honoapiilani Highway and the pali.

This includes when multiple things happen such as whale season, when surf is up and when there are large gatherings at Launiupoko Beach Park.

An audience member told transportation officials that he has seen traffic back up from Launiupoko to the Buzz’s Wharf restaurant in Maalaea. That’s a 14-mile backup with no accidents or no car breakdowns, he said. “This is on a consistent basis.”

But state officials said the long-awaited Lahaina bypass is expected to at least help ease some of that traffic.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at