Highway name change honors Maui veterans

A new street sign at the intersection of the former Mokulele Highway and Hookele Street reflects the highway’s name change. In April, Gov. David Ige signed a bill into law that changes the name of Mokulele Highway to Maui Veterans Highway. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The state Legislature renamed Mokulele Highway, which connects Kahului and Kihei, Maui Veterans Highway last session, and road signs reflecting the new name have gone up.

Act 11, whose sponsors include Maui County Sens. Roz Baker and Gil Keith-Agaran, took effect April 26 when Gov. David Ige signed the measure into law. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature without opposition.

The impetus for the state highway name change was the lack of major highways commemorating veterans or their role in the island’s history, according to the act. The 7-mile former Mokulele Highway, or Route 311, bisects an area that was a major naval air station during World War II. In fact, “Mokulele” means “airplane or flying ship,” according to Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert’s “Hawaiian Dictionary.”

The part of Maui Veterans Highway between the old Puunene sugar mill and Kealia Pond was commissioned Naval Air Station Maui in 1942. The Telephone Exchange Building, the Inflammable Storage Building and a concrete steel storehouse remain, a reminder of a past era when fighter pilots trained and landed on two runways surrounded by hangars and more than 300 buildings with 3,300 people bustling about, according to Department of Hawaiian Home Lands records.

The Puunene Airport was built by the Territory of Hawaii in 1938 with the Navy beginning use of the runway in 1940, the act said. When the Navy built a larger airport in Kahului, it renamed the site Puunene Naval Air Station.

The act also notes that the Army National Guard Armory is along the highway and that there are more than 9,000 veterans living on the island, according to a 2015 census report.

“The Legislature finds that Mokulele Highway has a clear connection to Maui’s military history and that the heroic veterans living on Maui should be remembered for their sacrifice to our country by naming a highway in their honor,” the act said.

The measure received the support of the state Office of Veterans’ Services and the Transportation Department in principal.

Veteran Lloyd Sodetani suggested renaming the highway “The WWII Veterans Highway” in his testimony to the Legislature.

The new highway name signs began being noticed by residents this week.

When asked about the highway name change Friday afternoon, a Transportation Department spokesman said only that “the state Legislature approved the name change and worked out the details. We are just following the law.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.