Work to close ‘tricky’ left-hand turn in Kihei to begin Monday

Van driver’s left turn onto Piilani Highway led to double-fatal crash

A handmade sign warns drivers on Welakahao Street of the dangers of turning left onto busy Piilani Highway in this photo Tuesday afternoon. The sign was put up following a double fatality last Friday at the intersection. The state apparently is taking the sign maker’s advice and plans to begin work Monday to shutdown the left-hand turn from Welakahao Road onto Piilani Highway. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Work is scheduled to begin Monday to close the left-hand turn from Welakahao Road onto Piilani Highway in Kihei, following a double fatality last week.

That happened Friday afternoon when the driver of a van failed to yield while making the left-hand turn onto the highway and collided with a motorcycle traveling south.

Work to eliminate the left-hand turn will include striping modifications. State Department of Transportation officials will evaluate the impact to the highway and surrounding roads, department spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said Wednesday. For now, there’s no plan to install traffic signals at the intersection or remove the left-hand turn from Piilani Highway onto Welakahao Road, she added.

The removal of the left-hand turn movement from Welakahao onto Piilani is to improve safety, and the decision was based on major accident history and requests from the community, Kunishige added.

Killed in the crash were Kihei residents Tina Louise Hanback, 48, who was driving the van, and William Kerr Chapman, 42, who was operating the motorcycle.

A driver on Welakahao Street waits to turn left onto busy Piilani Highway on Tuesday afternoon. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The passenger on the black 2003 Independence motorcycle was 25-year-old Monique Tong of Kihei, who was thrown off by the crash impact. On Wednesday, she was in critical condition at Queen’s Medical Center’s intensive care unit on Oahu, her family said via email.

She suffered fractures to her pelvis in four places, an ankle and an arm. She also sustained a punctured lung, perforated bowels, liver laceration, a head injury causing her brain to swell, along with internal bleeding and multiple other injuries.

Her family said her prognosis remained “a day-to-day question” because doctors need to see if she will stabilize enough to receive lifesaving surgeries.

A 35-year-old man, with no local address, was a front-seat passenger in the gold 2003 Chrysler Caravan. He sustained injuries, including a broken arm. On Friday, he was transported to Maui Memorial Medical Center in stable condition. No updates on his condition were immediately available Wednesday.

People familiar with the intersection say making a left-hand turn from Welakahao Road onto busy Piilani Highway is tricky. Some people avoid the area and use other streets to access the highway, including Lipoa Street, which has a traffic light.

Maui County data from May 2016 showed 152 cars making the left turn from Welakahao Road onto Piilani Highway during the morning peak of 7:30 to 8:30 and 62 cars in the afternoon peak of 3:30 to 4:30. On Sunday, 89 vehicles made the left-hand turn between 10 and 11 a.m. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

According to state transportation officials, recent traffic counts for Piilani Highway between Lipoa Street and Welakahao Road show an average annual daily traffic count of 18,202 heading toward Wailea and 17,274 vehicles heading toward Kahului.

Maui County data from May 2016 showed 152 cars making the left turn from Welakahao Road onto Piilani Highway during the morning peak of 7:30 to 8:30 and 62 cars in the afternoon peak of 3:30 to 4:30. A Sunday count showed 89 vehicles making the left-hand turn between 10 and 11 a.m.

According to totals from the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization, there have been at least nine traffic fatalities on Piilani Highway since 2013.

The Kihei Community Association, whose president Mike Moran fielded numerous calls over the weekend and into this week regarding the fatal crash, supported removing the left-hand turn from Welakahao Road onto Piilani Highway. In fact, Moran spoke with county and state officials earlier this week about that option.

“This will help immediately,” said Moran, prior to the state officially deciding to close the left-hand turn. He said association members believed closing the left-hand turn wasn’t a cure-all, but it was something that could be done quickly and easily.

Twenty-five year-old Monique Tong of Kihei was in critical condition Wednesday at Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu, following a crash last Friday at the Welakahao Road and Piilani Highway intersection. The crash killed two people, including Tong’s boyfriend, William Kerr Chapman. She was thrown from a motorcycle they were riding that collided with a van. Tong family photo

Shutting down the left-hand turn will send more cars onto already congested South Kihei Road, but Moran said “everything is a compromise.”

“We are having discussions and agreement (that) something has to be done, but specifics are tough,” he added. “Most of the through streets at unsignalized intersections have that same configuration” as Welakahao.

There also was the question of what to do with those other similar intersections.

On Wednesday, the state officials announced the Transportation Department would install a temporary traffic signal at the intersection of Piilani Highway and Kulanihakoi Street, which is makai of the site of the future Kihei high school. The temporary signal would be replaced by a permanent signal in the future by state Department of Education. The contract for the temporary traffic signal was awarded recently, Kunishige said.

A study of the intersection showed that traffic volumes warrant installation of a signal. The temporary signal also will support coordinated construction access for the building of the high school, she added.

Moran wondered whether the van driver might have used the county’s long-awaited north-south collector road if it had been in place, instead of turning left onto the highway. The collector road would run parallel to Piilani Highway and South Kihei Road.

Moran pointed out that people ignore the 40 mph speed limits along Piilani Highway as well.

“Everyone deserves to be safe on Maui’s roads. The recent double fatality on Piilani Highway at Welakahao Road underscores the need for solutions,” said Lauren Armstrong, executive director of the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Its vision is for Maui communities to be connected by a safe, efficient and sustainable transportation system.

Armstrong said that at least half of the fatalities on Piilani Highway in the last five years involved people walking or riding a bicycle.

The Maui MPO is working with the county and state governments to improve safety on Maui’s roadways. A memorial bicycle ride and community event is planned for 9 a.m. Sept. 15 at Kalama Park in Kihei, with more details to come.

The event’s goal is to bring together elected officials, engineers, police officers, community members, safety advocates and media representatives to identify solutions that help move Maui toward “Vision Zero,” which is no traffic fatalities by 2040, Armstrong said.

She outlined ways to eliminate traffic fatalities, which include evaluation, engineering, education and enforcement.

As for engineering, she spoke about safety improvements on Piilani Highway in which the state DOT would install rumble strips, improve pavement markings, signage and delineators.

Other potential safety improvements such as a traffic signals or other intersection treatments are being evaluated, Armstrong said.

The county is in the design phase for the Kihei north-south collector road, with an adjacent greenway multiuse path, she added.

The collector road section from Kulanihakoi Road to Namauu Place is programed on the Maui Transportation Improvement Program for construction in 2022, using 80 percent federal highway funds and 20 percent county matching funds. A later phase would extend the road south from Lokelani Intermediate School to Auhana Road, Armstrong said.

“The new roadway will improve regional circulation and alleviate traffic,” she said. “Providing drivers, cyclists and pedestrians with an alternative route within Kihei allows people to avoid the safety risks of traveling on Piilani Highway.”

Friday’s fatal accident occurred around 1:15 p.m., and snarled traffic most of the afternoon in South Maui.

Police said the motorcycle operator and his passenger were not wearing helmets. The van driver was wearing a seat belt. Her front-seat passenger was not wearing a seat belt.

Witnesses said Hanback, the driver of the van, had left the nearby recycling center on Welakahao Road before the crash occurred.

On Wednesday, Tong’s family said a “Go Fund Me” page has been started and can be found at www.gofundme. com/v8v23-momos-recovery.

The family said Tong, also known as “Momo,” was with her boyfriend on the motorcycle. They do not know where the couple was headed.

They described Tong as someone who “loves life and people.”

“She’s a happy artistic spirit,” they said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

COMMENTS