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East Maui residents at odds over new Paia bypass proposal

Many prefer the use of old cane roads owned by A&B instead of the DOT’s proposed route

The red line represents the state Department of Transportation’s latest proposal for the new Paia bypass, starting at Baldwin Beach Park and going through Poni Place before ending just after Hookipa Beach Park. The blue line represents East Maui residents’ proposed route that begins with Kala Road and continues on Sunny Side Road before eventually reaching Lower Hamakuapoko Road and ending near Maliko Gulch. Map art via Google Maps

The latest state Department of Transportation proposal for the new Paia bypass is leading some long-suffering East Maui residents to “take whatever you can get,” while others are demanding officials study a longer, and likely costlier, route with limited impacts to residents.

“My opinion is simply that they just need to get something built,” said Paia attorney David Spee, whose law office is in the heart of town, on Tuesday. “Take it if you can get it, don’t wait for the perfect solution.

“Otherwise, another 20 years will go by.”

The new route would start at Baldwin Beach Park on Hana Highway and move mauka and parallel to the highway. The bypass would continue on Poni Place until reaching Milepost 9, just past Hookipa Beach Park.

State transportation officials met with residents Thursday to review their latest proposal and answer questions. The majority in attendance disliked the solution and preferred the use of old cane roads owned by Alexander & Baldwin.

Map art via Google Maps

The residents’ proposal would start from Kala Road, which is across Stable Road before Spreckelsville, and continue on Sunny Side Road, which turns into Paia Mill Road. The road crosses Baldwin Avenue right above Paia Mill and becomes Lower Hamakuapoko Road, which ends near Maliko Gulch.

The department and Federal Highway Administration plan to hold another public informational meeting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Paia Community Center.

“To have a fast plan that’s a bad plan doesn’t look at the future,” Haiku Community Association President Lucienne de Naie said. “Everyone in Haiku wants to see something happen, but this isn’t going to happen if we don’t get the route right. It felt like we were being held hostage — you take this or you get nothing.”

Discussions over the Paia bypass began as early as 1968 when, de Naie recalled, giving her first presentation on traffic concerns through Paia town’s chokepoint at the intersection of Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue. State officials even acknowledged during Thursday’s meeting that no community has waited longer for a road solution than Paia and Haiku, de Naie said.

In 1972, the state examined one of its first proposed roads that would have led to the destruction of 22 houses and six or seven businesses, de Naie said.

“They’ve wanted to do this lower route because it was cheap,” she said. “I think it would’ve cost something like $2.5 million.”

The newest route would bulldoze two houses and physically divide a neighborhood of about eight or 10 families, de Naie said. She added that the bypass starts in a flood zone that has seen Baldwin Beach Park close regularly because of high water.

“It’s going to be a new Hana Highway that may carry even more traffic,” she said. “If you put that right in the middle of an existing neighborhood, that’s not good planning.”

Spee said the issue of the bypass near residences has always existed and must be balanced with its cost and dire need in the community. He said he believes the new proposal would be rejected like those on a long list of other alternatives over the past 30 to 40 years.

“I’ve just watched so many things in Paia town, where the small minority will vocalize and it shuts it down,” he said. “I feel like it’ll happen again.”

Recent proposed routes have ranged from $88 million to $111 million. The latest, albeit shorter, route is estimated at just $45.5 million.

The old cane road route appears to be about double the length of the state’s proposed bypass. Spee also questioned the condition of the roads and how much it would cost to dig it up to make it into a highway.

“I think it’s a matter of money,” Spee said. “It’s not that complicated. Everyone wants it to start closer to the airport. Yeah, it would be great if it started way up Hana Highway, but now you’ve tripled the cost. Everyone wants it done a certain way, but nobody looks at the cost and what’s realistic.”

Other issues surrounding the use of the cane roads are the presence of historic properties. The state identified 17 plantation-era sites that would jeopardize federal funding for any road through the locations.

De Naie questioned the state’s archaeological study surrounding the old roads, as well as around the new proposal. She asked why the state could not possibly get an exemption as it did when it built the H-3 Freeway that went through historic properties on Oahu.

“If you found a route that was pretty good and already had a lot of public use so you wouldn’t have to break a lot of new ground, it seems like you can get an exemption,” she said, adding that the road appears to be about 15 to 18 feet wide. “That road was in pretty good condition. It was paved and went right to the mill. It’s not like some weathered little thing.”

The biggest issue for de Naie, however, is that the state has not studied the use of the old cane roads. She said she would like to see the county work with A&B to fix the road enough to be used temporarily — possibly for a few hours during rush hour on the weekdays.

“We’d really like them to consider a route and then we’ll figure out how to get the money,” she said. “It would be nice to use the Sunny Side route because portions are publicly owned so they don’t have to go through lengthy negotiations.”

Spee worried that rejecting the state’s latest proposal may prolong relief for decades. He said traffic continues to get worse leaving Haiku and regularly backs up to Mama’s Fish House in Kuau.

“The people who want it have to come forward because the people who say ‘no’ are the only people who show up to the meetings,” he said. “It’s a perversion of smart growth. The loudest voice is the direction the county seems to take a lot of times.”

For more information or to comment on the Paia bypass proposal, visit www.paiareliefroute.com; call project manager Brian Tyau at (808) 587-6390; or email brian.tyau@hawaii.gov.

Any person requiring special accessibility or communication accommodations for the next meeting, may call Luana Kai at (808) 628-5828 or email lkai@ssfm.com.

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