Upgrades in the works for dozens of isle traffic signals

Traffic signals to get a makeover

The traffic signal at South Papa and Onehee avenues in Kahului was replaced two years ago. The Maui County Public Works Department is looking to upgrade 35 traffic signals countywide within the next year. Some of the lights are more than 40 years old. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — About 35 traffic signals — some more than four decades old — will be upgraded within the next year, Maui County Traffic Engineer Nolly Yagin said Wednesday.

Yagin discussed the planned upgrades to a handful of people during a Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization workshop at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku.

“We basically have to upgrade the controllers because some are no longer produced,” Yagin said. “If you buy parts, you have to buy them from eBay. They’re collector items.

“We need to upgrade because if they go down it’s a major challenge.”

Nine of the traffic signals are located in Kahului and part of MPO’s proposed federally funded transportation projects for 2019-22.

Nolly Yagin

Other projects include Kaupakalua Road pavement reconstruction, Makawao Avenue improvement and part of the new Kihei north-south collector road.

The Public Works Department asked the County Council for $810,000 Friday to pay for the design and construction of the traffic signal upgrades along with other improvements, such as striping, guardrails and street lights.

Yagin said the old traffic signals use underground metal detectors that recognize cars. Newer cars, motorcycles and bikes, however, aren’t detected because they do not contain enough metal.

Yagin identified four critical areas in need of traffic light upgrades: Lono and West Wakea avenues; South Kamehameha and Wakea avenues; Pukalani Street and Haleakala Highway; and South Kihei Road outside Azeka Shopping Center.

Traffic signals at South Papa and Onehee avenues needed to be replaced two years ago after the “circuits basically melted,” forcing crews to temporarily use a portable signal, Yagin said. He said crews will be replacing rusted traffic signal posts as well.

“In the last two years we had one pole come down just from high winds,” he said.

The department plans to install infrared or video-type detection that is more reliable than the old underground detectors, Yagin said. He clarified Wednesday that officials have no plans to use the cameras for speeding enforcement, as is done on the Mainland.

“There will be the capability to monitor traffic, but as far as using it for enforcement, that’s a whole different topic,” he said.

Other upgrades Yagin is exploring include more flashing yellow lights for drivers turning across traffic. The department has already installed some at the intersection of Kane Street and West Kamehameha Avenue as well as near the Target store in Kahului.

The county averages 18 traffic fatalities a year, including four pedestrian and two bicycle deaths, according to Maui Police Department data. A little more than half of the deaths are due to inattention and a quarter are attributed to misjudgment.

“We’re finding that people see the green and they just go,” he said. “Basically people see the yellow and they respond with caution. Nationwide it’s safer and it makes them kind of think.”

For more information on the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization, visit www.mauimpo.org.

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

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