Changing lanes in Lahaina

Smoother sailing via the Lahaina bypass: Honoapiilani Highway will be widened to add dedicated lanes on and off the bypass

Motorists make their way up and down the northern portion of the Lahaina bypass Friday as the sun sets over the neighbor island of Lanai. This bypass segment is mauka of the Lahaina Gateway Center and the intersection of Keawe Street and Honoapiilani Highway. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

West Maui residents and businesses are concerned about major changes planned for the busy intersection of Keawe Street and Honoapiilani Highway.

Scheduled for completion in September, the project is aimed at accommodating a greater volume of traffic coming on and off the Lahaina bypass road.

Keawe Street is at the northern terminus of the bypass, so motorists on the bypass heading north need to head makai down the street to reach Honoapiilani Highway to continue north to Kaanapali and beyond.

And motorists getting on the bypass at its northern terminus need to use the Keawe Street-Honoapiilani Highway intersection.

Traffic is drawn to the area by the Lahaina Gateway Center, Lahaina Cannery Mall, Walgreens, Panda Express, Starbucks and the Lahaina Business Park located nearby.

There will be major changes at the Keawe Street and Honoapiilani Highway intersection to accommodate traffic growth in the area as more of the Lahaina bypass gets completed. Currently, there are two through lanes heading Kaanapali-bound at the intersection. There is a right-turn lane heading mauka into Keawe Street and a left-turn lane heading makai into Lahaina Cannery Mall. With the changes, there will be a right-turn lane mauka to Keawe Street and only one through lane heading Kaanapali-bound. This change will open up a free right-turn lane from Keawe Street onto Honoapiilani Highway; currently, motorists have to stop at the traffic signal at the intersection. In the opposite direction, motorists currently have one left-turn lane mauka onto Keawe Street. There are two through lanes, with the most makai lane also allowing for right turns into the cannery. With the changes, another left-turn lane mauka into Keawe Street will be added. All other lanes will remain the same. -- The Maui News graphic

The state Department of Transportation is projecting a late December start to begin the $2.1 million project on Honoapiilani Highway from Kapunakea to Keawe Street that will widen Honoapiilani Highway to accommodate the changes. This includes an addition of a second left-turn lane from Honoapiilani Highway southbound onto Keawe Street. Another right-turn lane will allow traffic to merge from Keawe Street onto Honoapiilani Highway heading north. And, to accommodate the right-hand turn lane from Keawe Street, there will be only one through lane heading north at the intersection. Currently there are two.

The Transportation Department said construction has not begun on the improvements, but a schedule will be forthcoming. Night work will be involved.

West Maui Taxpayers Association Vice President Joe Pluta said he’s concerned about how new intersection configurations at Keawe Street will hold up and about the effects of road construction in the area.

There already are “all kind of near misses” in the area and a “lot of horn beeping” at the intersection and along Keawe Street, Pluta said. It’s difficult to imagine the situation with the addition of hundreds more vehicles coming down Keawe Street.

Dan Blessing, owner of Island Cream Co. at the Lahaina Gateway Center, also is concerned.

A Maui Bus (center) turns off Honoapiilani Highway and onto Keawe Street in Lahaina on Friday afternoon. Some residents and business operators are concerned about increased traffic congestion at the highway’s Keawe Street intersection, where improvements are planned. Meanwhile, further development of the bypass is ongoing. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Traffic is “already a problem” in the area with people having a hard time accessing the shopping center along Keawe Street as well as the businesses around it, he said.

“It’s just going to be a nightmare in the (Lahaina) industrial area also. We already cannot get in or out,” Blessing said.

Potential customers will avoid the area, meaning millions of dollars in lost business, he said.

Now, traffic builds up in the morning on Keawe Street and in the afternoon when motorists are coming on and off the bypass, he said.

“The effect on your business, in one form or another, is nearly guaranteed if you have a business in one of these areas,” said Blessing. He predicted that Lahaina Business Park businesses will be affected mauka of the Keawe Street intersection.

The Transportation Department will give a presentation on the Keawe Street intersection project at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Lahaina Gateway Center business office between Office Max and Barnes & Noble. People should bring their own folding chairs.

For more information, contact Blessing at dan@islandcreamco.com or call 298-0916.

West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey said traffic could be congested in a bottleneck at the intersection, especially with one lane heading north through the intersection. Northbound traffic could get backed up on Honoapiilani beyond Taco Bell, which is at the highway’s intersection with Hinau Street.

Pluta’s group and other community members, including Bob Pure, the former board president of Lahaina Bypass Now, spoke with DOT officials earlier this month about community concerns.

Pure said he was pleased with the 90-minute brainstorming session. Transportation officials are sensitive to the impact of traffic on Keawe Street, he added.

Ed Sniffen, deputy director for the state Highways Division, who also was at the meeting, said that since the Keawe Street intersection is an interim terminus and space in the area is limited, it was decided that the project would be constructed as designed.

But he added in an email to The Maui News that, after project construction starts, the state would work with the “community on adjustments based on observations in the first several months.” Planned intersection modifications were based on multiple traffic studies, Sniffen said.

“In general, we anticipate 70 percent of the traffic through the area will utilize the bypass from Olowalu to Keawe Street,” Sniffen said. “Keawe Street is considered an interim connector as the bypass plans include an extension toward Kaanapali. At this time, the highways program does not include sufficient funding to program the next phase of the bypass.”

Pluta and Pure agreed that issues at Keawe Street would be alleviated if the bypass continues north. They said they made this clear to transportation officials.

Pure said he told state officials: “You got the money, just spend it on Maui” and the bypass.

Another concern for Maui politicians and residents is the new routes that will be created when the next phase of the Lahaina bypass, 1B-2, is complete around March.

The nearly $39 million project runs from Hokiokio Place to near the old Olowalu landfill. One of the major changes that will occur is that traffic on Honoapiilani Highway heading north will flow directly into the bypass, near an area called “Cut Mountain.”

Motorists heading north will have to travel 1.2 miles on the bypass before they are able reach the first access to Honoapiilani Highway, which is at Kai Hele Ku Street. This change has some community members concerned over access to fishing and ocean areas. Motorists heading north still will have access to the shoreline, but they will have to backtrack from Kai Hele Ku to head back south along the shoreline.

Other accesses to Honoapiilani Highway from the bypass are through Hokiokio Place, Lahainaluna Road and lastly Keawe Street.

As for traffic heading south along Honoapiilani Highway, motorists will be able to travel past the Kai Hele Ku intersection at Launiupoko Beach Park. Just after Launiupoko Point, which is farther south of the beach park, there will be a south connector road linking Honoapiilani Highway and the newest southern portion of the bypass.

The connector road will allow traffic going south on Honoapiilani Highway to head mauka to get onto the bypass and head to Maalaea.

Motorists heading south on the bypass will be allowed to turn right onto the south connector road to get to Honoapiilani Highway.

Sniffen said the switchover with the new traffic flows associated with the bypass is anticipated for mid-March.

The Transportation Department and county Department of Public Works believe this portion of the bypass will improve traffic significantly in the area, he said.

“Those that would like to bypass Lahaina town will have a much more efficient route to travel which takes them away from slow-moving beach and town traffic. Those that require access to Honoapiilani Highway have four connectors to choose from in the northbound direction and five connectors in the southbound direction,” Sniffen said.

“There are no areas of Honoapiilani Highway that are inaccessible,” he added.

While the Transportation Department will monitor issues that arise when this phase of the bypass is complete, community members still have their concerns.

Pluta said that with the way the new portion of the bypass is set up, a better traffic flow would be to have the bypass and Honoapiilani Highway to each accommodate traffic heading in one direction. This would not be done for the entire stretch of both roads, but just for the area around the current split, he said.

Pluta said the separation of traffic would make traffic flow better, because currently and with the completion of the latest portion of the bypass, there would still be two lanes heading in opposite directions. So, if one car in one lane were going slowly, it would still back up traffic, he said.

Pluta said that he and community members also are concerned about the diversion of traffic heading north, which must initially travel on the bypass for about a mile before being able to return to Honoapiilani Highway.

When people think bypass, they think of an alternative road, he said. But, in this case, motorists must initially travel on the southern portion of the bypass. They have no other choice, he pointed out.

Sniffen explained the realignment helps protect the main route into Lahaina from coastal erosion and inundation by moving the highway mauka.

He said it would allow for future capacity if there were funding and for coastal park expansion by the county if desired.

“Utilizing both stretches of the road would cause safety and traffic issues at the connection points to the roads,” Sniffen said.

With the urging of West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker, there also will be an “emergency gate” at the southern terminus of the bypass, near the point where northbound highway traffic will be diverted mauka to the bypass, the Transportation Department said.

The gate would allow for the section of the current Honoapiilani Highway between Hokiokio Place and Olowalu to be used as a secondary emergency route.

Maui District highways staff would maintain the key to the gate and coordinate with emergency responders when necessary.

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

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