Airport Access Road’s final phase is now open

KAHULUI – A cascading waterfall surrounded by vibrant green grass and palm trees will be the new gateway for visitors arriving and leaving Maui starting today.

The final half-mile length of Airport Access Road from its intersection with Hana Highway through to the Kahului Airport terminal area opened following a grand opening ceremony Friday, which completes nearly two decades of advocating, planning and constructing the two-phase project.

“There were just a myriad different concerns, and it’s taken a lot of people, a lot of time – literally decades – to put all the pieces together,” Mayor Alan Arakawa said to the crowd of about 150 people. “Slowly but surely we’re seeing those efforts pay off.”

Today, the former airport access road from Keolani Place has been closed to those entering the airport, state Department of Transportation officials said. In-bound traffic is being diverted down Aalele Street to the new access road.

The former entrance to the general public parking lot has been closed, and a new entrance located on the north side of the parking lot (across from the baggage claim) has opened.

The new four-lane roadway connects the highway to Lanui Loop and will relieve traffic congestion on Dairy Road, which had been the only roadway leading to the airport from South Maui and West Maui. Officials said that the new road will help separate the airport users from the local community.

The opening comes nearly a year after the 1.1-mile first phase of the access road, which runs from Puunene Avenue/Mokulele Highway to Hana Highway, opened Aug. 4. The final phase of the roadway cost about $56 million, while the first phase was $21.7 million.

State senators and representatives, as well as airport officials, firefighters and construction workers were among the guests at the ceremony. State Department of Transportation officials thanked the county for assistance with permits, access and support over the years.

“I’m very excited because I think it’s a good thing for the people of Maui as well as our visitors,” Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz said. “It’s a good thing that we give back to the community and give back to the people who invested in us on Maui. We created a lot of jobs in the construction industry.”

The new roadway includes retaining walls, grade separation structures, a drainage system, a landscape and irrigation system, roadway signage and landscape accent lighting. The design also includes a guardhouse, domestic water system, electrical and telecommunications, wooden gate arm and security fencing.

State officials noted that the project was fully funded by the rental car customer facility charges collected by rental car companies at state airports.

“Everyone wants improved roadways and infrastructure, but no one wants to pay for it,” said Ross Higashi, deputy director of the state Airports Division. “I just want to make it clear that this project is funded by customer rental car fee collections. It comes from each day you rent a car. It’s not coming from our taxpayers’ dollars.”

While the new roadway will provide much relief to visitors and residents, its most striking and talked-about feature is the waterfall. Higashi said that the state decided to build it because a place was needed to store nonpotable irrigation water for surrounding landscaping.

Other options included building an underground tank or an above-ground irrigation pump station, he said.

“That would not have been as aesthetically nice as you see here today,” he said. “The cost between that and this was very minimal, and this is the reason why we came up with this design.

“Obviously it’s pleasing. Everybody is raving about it because it looks so nice. I think the project is coming along very well and looks really nice so I’m proud of it and so is our staff and director.”

Central Maui Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran said that the new road will be the “gateway” to and from Maui as the island’s economy continues to rely on the visitor industry. But, he said he will miss driving on Dairy Road despite its congestion and occasional flooding.

“Really the credit is to the department, the people who worked on it, the engineers, the planners and the people that actually got in the ground and did the real work,” he said. “We’re going to benefit, my family is going to benefit, my friends are going to benefit because those of us who all live here, we know what it’s like all these years to get to the airport.”

Sen. J. Kalani English, the state Senate majority leader and a former Senate Transportation Committee chairman, recalled working on expanding roadways to the airport over the years with House Speaker Joe Souki, another former Transportation Committee chairman. He said that the two of them “had to give a good show of fighting, but we worked it all out and Maui won.”

“To the people of Maui, this is your highway,” English said. “And we can say that we didn’t pay for it. We pay a lot for our tourists, but this is one our tourists are paying for us.”

Arakawa worked with English and other legislators over the years to complete the roadway project and characterized the former path to the airport along Keolani Place as “really ratty.”

“It didn’t have anything that really said this is a beautiful place to come to and this is one of the top destinations in the world,” he said. “It was nothing that we could be proud of and point to. The entrance way here is a good beginning for us.”

The new phase of the roadway passes by the $340 million consolidated rental car facility, currently under construction near the airport. A groundbreaking was held in April for the three-level structure that will consolidate more than a dozen rental car facilities under one roof with space for 3,800 rental vehicles. The project is expected to be completed in 2019.

Once the rental car facility is completed, traffic is expected to improve further because rental cars will not have to pass through the terminal, transportation officials said.

“As you can see, they’ve made a tremendous amount of progress,” Transportation Department Director Ford Fuchigami said. “It’s fantastic with how well they’ve done the work.”

Kahului Airport recently completed an energy-savings project that reduced kilowatt usage by about 50 percent and is continuing to pursue rehabilitation work on Runway 2-20, Fuchigami said. Subgrade material below the asphalt covering the 6,995-foot runway is collapsing in certain areas, and it needs to be replaced by concrete.

The state Transportation Department needs to complete an environmental impact statement for the runway work and officials hope to have a master plan community meeting on Maui soon.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.