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Commission OK’s permits for next phase of bypass

WAILUKU — The permitting process for the next phase of the Lahaina bypass, from the Olowalu landfill to Hokiokio Place, continues to move forward as the project’s construction date approaches next month.

The nearly $39 million, design-build project received a special management area use permit and a shoreline setback variance Tuesday from the Maui Planning Commission.

The new road alignment is around 2.7 miles long and 150 feet wide. It runs parallel and mauka of Honoapiilani Highway. There will be traffic signals at Hokiokio Place and Kai Hele Ku Street. At its southern terminus, the bypass will veer mauka of Honoapiilani Highway. Motorists traveling toward Lahaina will drive up the new bypass and not be able to stay on the current coastal highway. Motorists traveling toward Wailuku on the current highway would be able to travel all the way to the bypass road, uphill and mauka of Cut Mountain, a traditional fishing spot.

Commissioners voted six in favor, with commissioner Keaka Robinson abstaining.

Having traffic signals along the bypass, shoreline access issues and not having the bypass initially built with four lanes were some of the issues commissioners addressed, but they said they didn’t want to hold up the project, which is already years in the making and is set up to receive precious federal funding that could be lost if the project were delayed.

Robinson asked how the next bypass phase would “help the people of Lahaina.”

The Wailea resort area has been taken care of with Piilani Highway’s four lanes, but the residents of Lahaina don’t have a four-lane highway yet, he said.

Robinson also questioned installing traffic signals on the two-lane bypass road.

“Lahaina deserves four lanes,” he said.

Commissioner Lawrence Carnicelli said that replacing a two-lane highway (Honoapiilani Highway) with the bypass of two lanes “doesn’t make sense.”

But he said that the bypass is needed with the ocean threatening to wash away portions of Honoapiilani Highway.

Milton Arakawa, a project manager and senior planner with design engineers Wilson Okamoto Corp., said that the project was bid out for only two lanes because traffic capacity now doesn’t warrant four lanes.

The project is being designed for expansion to four lanes, if needed.

Regarding traffic signals, Arakawa said roundabouts would not be a good option because those are designed for slower traffic speeds, not a highway. Roundabouts are typically designed for flat areas and the bypass’s intersections are not flat, he said.

He added that using a grade-separated intersection would not be feasible because it is more costly — even a partial grade-separated intersection would cost approximately eight times more than an at-grade intersection because of higher land acquisition costs.

According to information from Wilson Okamoto, traffic signals are needed to ensure safe access not only to traffic along the bypass, but also to traffic traveling mauka and makai, as in the cases of the intersections of Kai Hele Ku Street and Hokiokio Place.

Arakawa told commissioners that people would still have access to the shoreline, but, depending on where the motorists are coming from, they may need to take a different route.

After the meeting, Arakawa clarified that motorists traveling toward Lahaina would not be able to continue on the coastal route to West Maui and would need to travel on the bypass.

Some type of physical separation would be placed in the area to direct traffic mauka to the bypass, he said.

Further along the bypass heading toward Lahaina, there would be areas where motorists can get off the bypass to travel again on the coastal route and backtrack to other, less-accessible areas.

The commission’s vote to approve the project’s permits included conditions. One requires the applicant, the Federal Highways Administration, to speak with West Maui Greenway officials. They and other bicycling and open-area supporters are concerned about ocean access and other issues relating to county property in the area of the bypass that is being eyed for a public park.

Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co. was awarded the contract for the project in June, with funds coming from the federal government and state.

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