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Bypass blessing set for April 15

Road expected to open later that week

A crew adds a temporary oceanside lane along Honoapiilani Highway where the Lahaina bypass (left) will merge with the highway in Olowalu near “cut mountain” in this photo taken March 28. The 2.6-mile extension that runs to Hokiokio Place will be blessed April 15. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A blessing for the embattled southern phase of the Lahaina bypass will be held at 2 p.m. April 15, Gov. David Ige’s office said Thursday.

The 2.6-mile, $38.7 million phase from “cut mountain” near Olowalu that connects at Hokiokio Place will not open after the blessing, which is being held on a Sunday, Ige’s office said after conferring with the state Department of Transportation.

That phase of the bypass will likely open later that week, the Transportation Department said.

An invitation was sent out by the department Wednesday that said the blessing would be held at 10:30 a.m. April 16, but West and South Maui state Sen. Roz Baker said Wednesday that she complained to the department that lawmakers would not be able to attend with the Legislature in session. The blessing was rescheduled for a day earlier.

The southern phase of the bypass, which has been in the works for more than three decades, faced some opposition from residents for its design at the terminus at “cut mountain.” Traffic headed toward Lahaina will all be funneled onto the bypass with no access to Honoapiilani Highway. In the opposite direction, vehicles on Honoapiilani Highway will be able to access the bypass.

Diverting all Lahaina-bound vehicles onto the bypass at “cut mountain” will increase flow on the highway by 70 percent. This generated other concerns by residents, worried about the increased traffic at the northern terminus of the bypass at Keawe Street.

Late last year, the Transportation Department informed residents that the Keawe Street-Honoapiilani Highway intersection would be altered to ease vehicle flow through the congested intersection with two major shopping centers nearby. One of the two Kaanapali-bound lanes of traffic on Honoapiilani Highway would become a right-hand turn lane onto Keawe Street, and traffic flowing down Keawe Street would turn without having to stop onto Honoapiilani Highway headed toward Kaanapali.

Residents and business operators are upset and concerned over plans to modify the Keawe Street-Honoapiilani Highway intersection. They have raised issues about safety and massive congestion at the intersection.

Members of the public also have said they were not given an opportunity for input on the plans and that the department is only paying lip service to their suggestions, assertions the DOT denies.

“My biggest concern . . . is the safety at Keawe Street,” said Joe Pluta, West Maui Taxpayers Association vice president, on Wednesday. The changes at the intersection are “insufficient for an ending and termination of the bypass.

“So much more extra traffic and they can’t make enough improvements and changes, it’s impossible,” Pluta said.

West Maui state Rep. Angus McKelvey, who has called on Ige to delay the opening of the bypass, said Thursday that “it is going to be a total disaster.”

“They are trying to jam it all out, lickety-split . . . in the name of progress,” McKelvey said.

The West Maui lawmaker added that he was not planning to attend the blessing.

Ige said in an interview with The Maui News on Thursday that Transportation Department officials will be monitoring traffic flow at the intersection and on the bypass and will make modifications as needed.

“Everybody has different ideas of what would improve traffic,” Ige said. “We take input from different people, and we try to do the project within the resources that we have that would make the biggest impact for people.”

Some suggestions from the residents would be costly or delay the project one to five years, he said. Other suggestions could be made “relatively inexpensively and quickly.”

“If it seems like we were wrong and the community was right and that there are these bottlenecks that occur, then we will go ahead and make the changes to the traffic flow,” Ige said.

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

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