House secures funds for road widening

Motorists may get some relief from the most congested portion of Puunene Avenue if state lawmakers continue to support a $10 million project to expand the two-lane portion of the street to four lanes.

The House of Representatives has secured $2 million to begin planning to widen Puunene Avenue from Wakea Avenue to Kuihelani Highway in Kahului. The state money would be matched by $8 million in federal funds, lawmakers said.

A portion of the funding also would pay for safety improvements in the area.

While the House has passed its draft of the state supplemental budget, which includes the road-widening project, the Senate needs to review and approve the spending plan as well.

The $10 million proposal is one of more than 10 additions of capital improvement projects on Maui in the supplemental budget. Last year, the Legislature approved the biennium state budget for 2013-15.

Central Maui Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran said he expected funding for the project would pass muster in the Senate.

“I’m pretty confident this is something that will stay in,” he said. “I think Freddy Cajigal (state Highways Maui District Engineering program manager) and the Maui District has been pretty good about planning systematically and being ready to go forward with the project if the money comes through.”

Other state highway districts may not be as ready to proceed with projects when funding is available, Keith-Agaran said, and that makes Maui more successful at accessing state funding.

Kahului Rep. Justin Woodson said he hoped the funding would remain in the Senate version of the budget.

“The issue of traffic congestion in certain areas of the community is a growing concern,” he said. “The Legislature, in coordination with the Department of Transportation, is taking a systematic approach to addressing these concerns.”

Woodson, who lives near Puunene Avenue, said that he knows firsthand how congested the entire roadway can get.

Around a year ago, Woodson was rear-ended while he was with his family in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the four-lane portion of Puunene Avenue near McDonald’s. No one was seriously injured, he said.

State Transportation spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said in an email that after Puunene Avenue is widened from Wakea Avenue to Kuihelani Highway, the section from Wakea Avenue to East Kamehameha Avenue would be realigned to match the new roadway section.

Daily traffic in both directions of Puunene Avenue (between Wakea Avenue and Kuihelani Highway) averages about 28,200 vehicles and the road widening would help improve traffic flow through the “busy area,” she said.

The construction funding is not expected until fiscal 2015, so there is no timetable for the project, Sluyter added.

In addition, the House has secured $32.5 million for the design and construction of a new parking garage at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

Keith-Agaran said that an additional $25 million in bonds was added this year to the initial appropriated amount of $7.5 million.

Maui Memorial Medical Center spokeswoman Carol Clark said that while it’s early in project planning, the new parking garage is expected to have 650 to 700 stalls.

While Keith-Agaran expressed optimism for the Puunene Avenue widening remaining in this year’s supplemental budget, he couldn’t do the same for the hospital garage.

Road projects tend to have better success rates of remaining in the budget because they come with federal matching funds, he said.

There are other factors that may keep the hospital’s parking garage as well as other new projects out of the budget, which includes the state’s possibly worse-than-expected economic outlook, he said.

“Because we are looking at the new Council of Revenues projections, we know we got to make cuts,” said Keith-Agaran, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Earlier this month, the state Council on Revenues lowered its forecast for state revenue for fiscal 2014 from 3.3 percent to zero growth.

* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at