It's an election year and paving is going down in Kula. The timing could be coincidental. Maybe the 2011 Legislature's budget included the work. If so, were the legislators looking ahead to next month's voting? Perhaps it was just Maui's turn to tap into the federal funds divided between the counties.
It was federal funding that led to the creation of a state highways division. Until statehood, each island was taken care of by a county highways division. In 1959, federal funds went directly only to states. To qualify for those funds as a state, roads on the island were divided.
Roads between towns went to the state. The county had the others. An easy way to tell the difference between state and county roads is to check the numbers. State highways have two-digit numbers. County byways have three-digit numbers.
For the last couple of weeks a contractor has been busy repaving Kula Highway (Route 37) from its intersection with the county's Kekaulike Avenue (Route 377, once known as Upper Kula Highway) to the Five Trees intersection where the state's Haleakala Highway (Route 37) turns into the county's Route 377, according to a couple of maps.
It's been an interesting process. First, the contractor went along digging up sections of the highway. One of those monster asphalt eaters chewed off the top level of asphalt, spitting the oil and stone mixture into trucks for recycling. A sub layer of asphalt was put down. The contractor moved to another isolated section and repeated the process.
It looked as if Kula Highway was being patched. Not so. Crews would follow up with a paving machine wide enough to handle a lane and shoulder. The new top coat went down over the new base and any old, undamaged surface. Concrete-bottom bridges are the only places where the road surface remains as is. Should make for a thick, durable roadway from Pukalani to Waiohuli, even with all the increased traffic.
The construction zone has a temporary 35-mph speed limit. Flagmen keep traffic moving around the men and machinery down to something like 20 mph. When there's no actual work being done, everyone runs 45 mph, a speed limit that is routinely bent, if not broken.
The construction crew kept one lane open at all times and didn't go to work until after the morning rush to town and shut down before the evening rush to home.
The end of the side road to home was more or less blocked one morning. An off-duty police officer, in uniform and directing traffic, held up his hand. A flagman came over and admired the refurbished 13-year-old truck. "Like sell 'em? Cheap?" he asked with a grin. Nope. It's got to last as long as I do.
A left turn was possible, but only after a five- or 10-minute wait. There's more than one way to get from here to Morihara Store. Hang a right, zip down to the end of Lower Kula Road and then left, bypassing the paving zone. If you know the neighborhood, getting along without waiting was possible in places where Lower Kula Road hadn't become part of Kula Highway. That was between Rice Park, through Waiakoa, and then from the top of Pulehu Road to Omaopio Road.
It's possible to continue paralleling Kula Highway beyond Omaopio, but there's a section that will rattle your teeth on a motorcycle. One map says it's "roughly paved." Puka puka is more like it - a real test of the springs and shocks on a car or truck.
One day, in the section of Kula Highway between Kula Post Office and Pulehu, the number of cars was staggering. There's a long dip into a kind of valley so waiting traffic going both ways could be seen. By actual count, there were more than three dozen vehicles lined up on both sides of the construction. In the middle of the day. Where did they all come from and where were they all going? Kula is country. Or should it be Kula was country.
Way out in Kanaio, there was another repaving that got repaved in sections. A major length of Piilani Highway (Route 31, or Kaupo Road) had recently been repaved. Still a narrow, roller-coaster ride, but smooth. The low hills were a problem for semi-trucks pulling heavily loaded low-boy trailers to the new wind farm on Ulupalakua Ranch. The trailers bottomed out. The little hills were cut down by the wind farm developers and then repaved.
Almost forgot. Haleakala Highway between Pukalani and Crater Road also got new paving a month or so ago. Election year, yeah?
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.