There appears to be a lot of interest among west side residents in a proposed 2-mile-long county highway that will run parallel and between Honoapiilani Highway and the under-construction Lahaina bypass in the Lahaina town area.
The Kuhua Street extension project, which reportedly drew a large crowd to a hearing last month, aims to ease travel for tourists passing through the corridor to the Kaanapali and Kapalua resorts and for parents and school officials at the three public schools along Lahainaluna Road, according to county officials and consultants.
But these are long-range plans that lack funding - more than $36 million - and permits but are intended to meet the needs of the growing community, they said.
This map shows the path of the proposed Kuhua Street extension in West Maui that will run from Keawe Street to the Honoapiilani Highway-Front Street intersection.
Munekiyo & Hiraga graphic
The two-lane roadway is proposed to run on an old cane haul road and would extend Kuhua Street about 2 miles from Keawe Street to the intersection of Front Street and Honoapiilani Highway.
The current cane haul road would be widened from 25 feet to 79 feet into a two-lane highway. Intersecting streets of Papalaua Street, Lahainaluna Road, Dickenson Street, Shaw Street and Aholo Road also would be improved, the draft report said.
"West Maui will not look like what it looks like today in the future. There'll be a lot more folks there," said David Goode, county director of the Department of Public Works. "We're headed towards gridlock if we don't plan for the future, so having another road parallel to Honoapiilani Highway makes a lot of sense."
The project started in 2005, when the Honua Kai Resort applied for a special management area permit to develop a project at Kaanapali's North Beach. The Maui Planning Commission approved the permit on the condition that Honua Kai Resort pay $2.5 million for studies and design fees to come up with a solution for regional traffic woes.
At the time, the county identified the "Mill Street Collector Road," along the existing Mill Street, as an alternate route to ease traffic for the three public schools along Lahainaluna Road - Lahainaluna High, Lahaina Intermediate and Princess Nahienaena Elementary.
In 2009, the county hosted a round of public hearings on the project. Because of the community's input and "technical considerations," the roadway was revised to a more mauka location, at Kuhua Street, according to the draft report.
A nearly 1,600-page draft environmental assessment was published in March that detailed the proposed roadway and included a traffic impact analysis report, biological resources survey, archaeological inventory survey and cultural impacts assessment.
The deadline for written public comments was originally set at April 23, but it was pushed back another 30 days after residents testifying at a public hearing in April said that 30 days was not enough time to read over such a lengthy document.
"I'm concerned about how little time we had to look over such an unmanageably large document," said West Maui resident John Skendarian. "I printed it out, and it was (the size of) about five or six phonebooks."
Others who testified at a public hearing in April had similar concerns, which prompted the county to extend the public comment period to May 31, according to a county notice.
Skendarian, who owns Prudential Maui Realtors located along one of the affected streets - Papalaua Street - is worried that his business would be jeopardized if the roadway project is allowed to be built as proposed.
"I'm told they can't seal off our access because it is our right, but I'm also told the county can condemn our property if they so chose," said Skendarian. "We employ 55 people, local people. We've been here for more than 20 years, and they're just pushing us aside for corporate profit," he said.
The public needs more time to review the draft environmental assessment and formulate questions, according to Skendarian. At last month's public hearing, he said he was one of the few attendees to read the entire 1,590-page document.
He added that the volume of the document itself implies a need for a more detailed and lengthy environmental impact study.
"This is important to my family and my community. Why is it being shoved so quickly through?" asked Skendarian.
Colleen Suyama, senior associate for Munekiyo & Hiraga and one of the project's lead planners, said the document is lengthy because each section - engineering, traffic, environmental and others - included lengthy reports. She said the size of the document doesn't necessarily mean the project calls for an environmental impact statement, though one may be in the project's future if the department receives enough testimony from the public.
She did not want to directly address Skendarian's claims publicly because the project was still in its infancy but added that she would contact him.
"If you look at the Maui Island Plan, most of the areas surrounding this extension are in the urban-growth boundary," said Suyama. "In the future as all of those lands get developed, eventually you're going to need this roadway."
This was just the beginning of a long process involving a number of permits and approvals from both the state and county, she said.
Additionally, there is currently no funding for construction of the project, which will cost about $36 million, plus additional funds for land acquisition. The roadway is part of a "long-range plan" and is not going to be built within the next five years, she said.
Goode supported the idea of planning for the future growth of the region.
"We support a network of roads and should plan for the future in a thoughtful and meaningful way, but it's going to be a long way out until this is implemented," said Goode.
The public has until May 31 to submit written testimony in response to the Kuhua Street Extension and Improvement Project. Comments may be submitted to David Goode of the county Department of Public Works at 200 S. High St., Wailuku 96793 or to Colleen Suyama of Munekiyo & Hiraga Inc. at 305 S. High St., Suite 104LW, Wailuku 96793.
The report can be viewed online at oeqc.doh.hawaii. gov/shared%20documents/ea_and_eis_online_library/maui/2010s/2013-03-23-ma-5b-dea-kuhua-street-extension. pdf.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.