Bridge open — but slow down

Drivers passing over the Kulanihakoi Bridge on South Kihei Road in the next two weeks may begin to see more signs telling them to slow down as steel plates are being installed to reinforce the deteriorating 102-year-old bridge, county officials said.

While some county officials had originally suggested that traffic along the roadway would be drastically reduced by either restricting the bridge to one-way traffic or closing it altogether, officials said Friday that two-way access will be able to continue across the bridge, as long as motorists drive slowly – at 20 mph.

“We had two structural engineers come look at (the bridge), and we don’t have to close down the two lanes . . . But there are going to be traffic control measures to make sure everyone drives 20 mph (while going) over that bridge,” county spokesman Rod Antone said Friday.

He added that steel plates would be welded onto the bridge for reinforcement, “probably during night hours” when it would be least disruptive to traffic. Additionally, signs will be posted around the area reminding drivers to slow down.

Department of Public Works Director David Goode made a preliminary radio announcement Tuesday morning that the bridge would be restricted to one-way, northbound-only use in order to reduce traffic over the bridge. However, after consulting with the engineers who surveyed the area, Antone said closing half the roadway is not necessary as long as cars drive slowly over the bridge.

The safety of the deteriorating bridge, originally built in 1911, has been a concern to some Kihei residents for years now, one of whom said he is happy that something is finally being done to address the issue.

“We’re doing all this stuff now; why weren’t we doing it 10 years ago?” Kihei Community Association President Mike Moran said. “I’m trying not to be negative, but it’s a 100-year-old bridge. You could see it deteriorating and deteriorating. . . . If this bridge collapsed, probably no one would die, but the road would be closed, and have we’d only have one way to get to and from here.”

A few years ago, a neighboring portion of Piilani Highway was closed following a car accident, and the bypass through South Kihei Road “was vital,” Moran said.

While the bridge used to have a weight-limit sign posted on it years ago, Moran said, the sign has since disappeared, and large commercial trucks and buses currently use the bridge, which further stresses the deteriorating structure.

“Why are these great big trucks going down this little beach road when there’s a (Piilani) highway?” Moran said.

There are no plans to enforce a weight limit on vehicles driving over Kulanihakoi Bridge, Antone said.

Plans for a replacement bridge that will be longer and wider than the existing bridge are undergoing a lengthy permitting process. Construction is not expected to begin until 2015, county officials said.

Worried that the concrete culverts would collapse before then, the county has proposed putting in an emergency temporary steel bridge over the existing bridge by the end of this year to avoid the risk of collapse, county officials said.

A Maui County bridge inspection report last year noted that the existing four-cell concrete box culvert system spanning about 28 feet along South Kihei Road was “in a very deteriorated condition, with exposed reinforcement and crumbling concrete, severe spalling and advanced corrosion of the reinforcing of the top slab of the culvert.”

A draft environmental assessment published this month for the Kulanihakoi Bridge replacement project rated the sufficiency of the bridge a 2 on a scale of 100, with 100 representing a bridge fully meeting current design standards.

The report recommended that the county replace the bridge.

The planned replacement project proposes widening the bridge to extend approximately 50 feet across South Kihei Road, just south of the Kaonoulu Street intersection and north of the Kihei Bay Vista condominiums and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

The estimated $3.6 million project, funded by the county and the Federal Highway Administration, also will include several roadway improvements, including the installation of guardrails and a dedicated paved walkway and bikeway on the mauka side of the roadway.

Oahu-based Wilson Okamoto Corps., which also designed the $24.3 million Kahoma Stream Bridge in Lahaina that was completed last year, has been contracted by the county to design the replacement bridge that will span Kulanihakoi Gulch.

“Culverts should last about 60 to 70 years,” Milton Arakawa, Wilson Okamoto Corps. project manager and former Maui County Department of Public Works Director, said in an interview Tuesday. “(The replacement bridge) is needed because of the advancing deterioration of the existing culverts.”

* Eileen Chao can be reached at