State shirking responsibility on road

Our County

Anyone stuck in traffic going to and from Lahaina should know that our community has tried desperately to work with the state to solve this problem for the last two decades. The Lahaina bypass, from Maalaea to the other side of the pali, was on the state Long Range Transportation Plan for the last 20 years until it was removed recently by state Transportation Director Ford Fuchigami, with the approval of Gov. David Ige.

This is a slap in the face to myself, our Maui legislative representatives and senators, the Lahaina Bypass Now volunteer board and every other Maui resident who was involved in the dozens of meetings with the state DOT over the years. Essentially, they’re saying to the people of Maui, “Sorry, we know this highway is our responsibility, but we have more important matters to deal with.”

Even Bob Pure, the former president of Lahaina Bypass Now, does not see a light at the end of the tunnel. Pure and the Lahaina Bypass Now board have had the most success lobbying the DOT over the years, and they are directly responsible for the state constructing phase one of the bypass on the West Maui side of the pali, from Hokiokio Place to Keawe Street.

“When the state killed the capacity road projects they also killed the Lahaina Bypass Phase 1 C to Kaanapali.” Pure said. “Our community has testified before the MMPO (Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization) that the Lahaina Bypass Phase 1C is a number one priority for Maui. The MMPO exists to communicate the wishes and priorities of our community to both the feds and the state, but the DOT and its director are ignoring us and refusing to alleviate what is rapidly becoming a traffic crisis on Maui.

“What to do from Maalaea to Launiupoko is a separate issue, there is zero on the drawing board. . . . I don’t see them making Maui a priority.”

The county has tried to help the state by purchasing land in Ukumehame and Launiupoko so that the state DOT would not have to deal with individual landowners when it began bypass construction. Instead, the DOT waited and delayed the project until construction costs went up so high — an estimated $500 million to $1 billion according to Fuchigami — that now it is using it as an excuse to take the project off of the long-range plan.

This is a poor excuse indeed, one that this community should not accept.

“Most people are complaining and complaining, but there is no strong impetus to lobby the state to make some changes,” Pure said. “We need to make some noise.”

Fuchigami said in a May 16 Viewpoint in The Maui News that these days, funding sources are limited and that “federal agencies that fund our programs require us to prioritize preservation and safety.”

If that’s the case, then a true Lahaina bypass should be at the top of the list for the state.

Right now we have a small two-lane highway carved through a mountain that otherwise separates two of our largest and most populated areas: Lahaina/Kaanapali and Wailuku/Kahului. This makes us uniquely vulnerable because shutting down Honoapiilani Highway on the pali has the potential to cut off West Maui’s residents and visitors from the island’s only critical care facility — Maui Memorial Medical Center — as well as shipments that come in from the harbor and airport in Central Maui.

In other words, we are one disaster away from having an entire community trapped without medical care, food and supplies.

We have already seen this sort of thing happen over the years with the pali having to close for any number of reasons, including rockslides, rushing water, brush fires and the occasional traffic collision. Our emergency crews (including state DOT highways crews) do their best to clear the area but have sometimes taken up to 12 hours to do so.

Imagine then how long it would take if a large enough boulder fell upon the highway or the tunnel collapses or a section of the highway falls into the ocean. Having a real Lahaina bypass with multiple traffic lanes over (or through) the West Maui mountains is a literal lifeline for West Maui.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, is about county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.