The long-planned Kihei high school campus is not expected to have a "significant" impact on traffic along Piilani Highway and surrounding areas when it opens in 2016, according to the project's final environmental impact statement filed late last week.
That's despite the campus being designed with a single entry-exit point off of the highway and a projected first-year population of 800 students and 120 staff.
The favorable traffic study admittedly did not take into account other large projects planned along Piilani Highway, including the Maui Outlets and Piilani Promenade shopping centers on a parcel adjacent to the planned campus and expansion of the neighboring Maui Research & Technology Park. It also noted future residential developments in North Kihei and the master-planned Honua'ula luxury golf community in Wailea.
"The project development plans and implementation schedules for these projects are unknown; therefore, they have not been incorporated into projected traffic scenario conditions for the (high school)," according to the environmental review, prepared by Honolulu-based Group 70 International for the state Department of Education.
The 77-acre public high school campus will be built on vacant land mauka of the highway between Kulanihakoi and Waipuilani gulches. The single entry point will be through an extension of Kulanihakoi Street across Piilani Highway.
The study says that the increased traffic can be adequately controlled by adding a traffic signal system to the Kulanihakoi Street-Piilani Highway intersection and having dedicated turning lanes into and out of the campus.
Traffic conditions are, however, expected to "deteriorate slightly" by 2025 as the campus increases capacity to 1,650 students and the overall South Maui population grows.
The community and state officials have long envisioned a high-school campus for Kihei, where currently Kihei Charter School is the only campus serving grades 9 to 12 in South Maui.
The Department of Education says 704 students from Kihei attend high schools outside of Kihei.
Maui High School was over capacity in the 2011-12 school year by more than 200 students, while Baldwin High School was near capacity that year.
State Sen. Roz Baker, who represents West and South Maui, said she was concerned that the traffic study did not include impacts from the other planned projects, most notably the shopping centers and the research park.
"The community's waited too long for this school," Baker said. "I don't want anything to prevent this from moving forward. I've been working with the (Department of Transportation) to make sure that all of the traffic studies are up to date for Piilani Highway if those malls go through. I don't believe that a necessary government facility should have to make up for the shortfall of any ill-planned private projects."
Charlie Jencks, project liaison for the Piilani Promenade, said Monday that the project's traffic engineering consultant has not had a chance to review the final EIS for the planned high school.
"Once that review is complete we will make a statement, if appropriate," he said in an email.
"We have felt for some time that the high school and the retail centers were not in conflict due to the times when the high school would generate traffic, which is very early in the morning and then again early in the afternoon when traffic on the Piilani Highway is light," he said.
In addition to cars, the environmental review said the new school will increase pedestrian and bicycle traffic in the area, which will require upgrades to bike lanes and sidewalks.
The study recommends bike-friendly improvements for the entire length of Kulanihakoi Street. It notes a low-cost option would be to install traffic-control measures such as speed humps.
The review also recommends extending the existing Kihei Greenway bikeway, a 12-foot-wide paved and landscaped path that currently runs from Waipuilani Road south to Lipoa Street.
"Extension of the Kihei Greenway bikeway . . . would be a very attractive improvement for the school and the larger Kihei community. It bypasses the bike lane gaps on Kihei Road and provides a direct route to the shopping area at Piikea Avenue, likely to become a popular destination for students after school," the study said.
The study does not recommend pedestrian bridges over the highway or a pedestrian tunnel under it.
"Concerns have been heard that traffic signals may not provide the highest level of safety for pedestrians desiring to cross Piilani Highway to access the school site," the review said.
But, it argues, pedestrians will avoid bridges "due to the effort to climb three flights of stairs to an elevation high enough to bridge across the highway and to return to street grade on the other side." It said tunnels have security and maintenance issues.
"A more appropriate (alternative) may be the development of a greenbelt bikeway and recreational trail that would follow the watercourse that passes under Piilani Highway south of the intersection," the study suggested.
The study said that the Department of Education and the company awarded the design-build contract will discuss the recommended off-site improvements with state and county agencies.
The Kihei high school campus is expected to take two years to build at a cost of $120 million.
Because the school is being built on vacant land that has no infrastructure or utilities, Baker said the Department of Education is still deciding on the most cost-effective way to construct the campus.
One option, she said, is through a public-private partnership, in which a developer would build a turnkey campus and lease it back to the state. Another option would be to use state general obligation bonds for the site infrastructure, which Baker said has been estimated at between $23 million and $31 million alone.
"With bond funding so incredibly inexpensive, I'm working with the Department of Education and the Maui Board of Education member to see what's the best way," Baker said. "I want this decision made by the time the governor has to submit his budget so that we have a clear path for having this school constructed."
She added: "With the EIS done and out of the way, the department can finalize a request for proposal. I'd recommend they get that out on the street as soon as possible and see what's the best deal we can get. Maybe that's the best way to go."
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.