Roadwork at Keawe Street begins

Council threatens suit if work not suspended to discuss alternatives to lane realignment

Workers for Lite Electric use a powerful saw to make a pair of cuts across Honoapiilani Highway at the intersection with Keawe Street on Tuesday afternoon. The cuts are for a trench that is to be dug across the highway for utilities to be installed. Residents complain that the changes to the intersection will create more congestion and safety hazards. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A Maui County Council member warned the state that a lawsuit could be a possibility if work is not temporarily suspended on the current phase of the Lahaina bypass and its controversial merging with Honoapiilani Highway through Keawe Street in town.

In a resolution on the council’s Friday agenda, Council Member Don Guzman is “urging” Gov. David Ige and the state Department of Transportation to temporarily suspend work “to allow time for all stakeholders to discuss possible alternatives.”

The resolution echoes West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey, who sent a letter last week to Ige calling for a “timeout” on work on the bypass to prevent a “detrimentally profound and negative impact” on West Maui traffic.

When the plans came out to extend the bypass from Hokiokio Road to Olowalu, residents raised concerns about the routing of traffic from Honoapiilani Highway onto the bypass at “cut mountain” near Olowalu. Lahaina-bound traffic will not be able to continue on Honoapiilani Highway, drawing complaints from those wanting to access the shoreline.

More recently, the Transportation Department came out with its specific plans for the northern end of the bypass at Keawe Street as it merges onto Honoapiilani Highway. Residents and businesses say they were not given sufficient notice about the specific plans for the work and that it will exacerbate current traffic congestion and create safety hazards.

Hawaiian Dredging laborers Keli‘i Medeiros (left) and Alapaki Diamond apply temporary tape to mark a temporary turnoff where the Lahaina bypass currently terminates at Hokiokio Road above Puamana on Tuesday afternoon. Starting today, both lanes of traffic entering and exiting the bypass will use the turnoff as work begins on the Lahaina bypass’s Hokiokio Road intersection. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Plans involve modifying traffic patterns to accommodate an increased number of vehicles from Keawe Street and the bypass. The DOT anticipates that 70 percent of traffic will utilize the bypass from Olowalu to Keawe Street when the phase is completed. The current 2.6-mile southern phase of the bypass could be completed by March.

Guzman’s resolution says the changes to the intersection “will have critical impacts on residents, visitors and businesses, creating gridlock and safety concerns.” The resolution warns that if the Transportation Department does not agree to voluntarily suspend construction the county may consider filing an injunction.

The resolution appears to have caught the eye of the Transportation Department. Guzman said Tuesday evening that he was part of a video conference earlier in the day with state transportation officials.

“All in all, they seem to be supportive of open dialogue with the county and the community. In a sense my resolution did help,” he said.

Council Chairman Mike White, Public Works Director David Goode, Mayor Alan Arakawa’s Executive Assistant Zeke Kalua and others also joined the video conference, Guzman said. 

Lahaina-bound traffic on Honoapiilani Highway will be diverted onto the Lahaina bypass near Olowalu at “cut mountain.” • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“This is a good faith step in the right direction. I still feel that we shouldn’t dismiss the resolution,” Guzman, said noting that he hopes the state conducts outreach with the public and community leaders.

He warned that if the state “walks away,” the resolution and its threat of legal action could come into play. The resolution, though, would need the approval of the council and the signature of Arakawa. 

The resolution was introduced after Guzman heard the public’s worries and concerns and initially was not intended to threaten the state, he said. Still, the resolution does say that an injunction could be sought.

“If they weren’t willing to come to the table to discuss things, we would have to go to the next level,” Guzman confirmed.

A spokeswoman for the state DOT confirmed the talks with county officials Tuesday. Spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said that all sides will continue “working with each other.”

While some in the community have criticized the outreach, Transportation Department officials countered that the department has had discussions with the community on the plans for the Keawe Street intersection. In December, DOT officials said that they agreed to work with the community on adjustments after the intersection and the new $38.7 million phase of the bypass become operational.

The DOT added that there have been public meetings over the decades since the Lahaina bypass was first conceived with the latest meetings in 2007 and 2015 tied to environmental studies.

Some residents said that the DOT was just paying lip service to them and that any changes to the intersection could be years away.

Work began Tuesday on the bypass adjustments to Honoapiilani Highway from Kapunakea to Keawe streets. Scheduled completion on the $2.1 million intersection project is September.

The work includes eliminating one of two through northbound lanes on Honoapiilani Highway at Keawe Street, which will allow vehicles coming off the bypass to make a continuous right turn onto Honoapiilani Highway. That former through lane will become a right-turn lane onto Keawe Street. A second left turn lane onto Keawe Street for Olowalu-bound traffic on Honoapiilani Highway will be added.

On the other end of the bypass, Lahaina-bound traffic on Honoapiilani Highway will flow directly onto the bypass near “cut mountain.” Motorists heading north will have to travel 1.2 miles on the bypass before they are able reach the first access point to Honoapiilani Highway, which is at Kai Hele Ku Street.

The resolution also asks that the county work with Ige and DOT “to retain and preserve the coastal two-way Honoapiilani Highway as a transportation thoroughfare.” The Transportation Department said last week that the benefits of the bypass include protecting an important coastal highway and moving it inland.

Some of these changes could require amendments to environmental studies for the project, which could take two years, Guzman said. The department was willing to examine the changes, though.

The intersection of Honoapiilani Highway and Keawe Street will serve as an “interim” northern terminus of the bypass until the Keawe Street-to-Kaanapali phase is built. The department has said that that phase would be built only if funding is available, adding that current funding is prioritized for safety and repairs, not new projects. 

On Tuesday evening, Ige said that if funding from a source other than the Highways Revenue Fund becomes available, he will direct the Transportation Department to continue with the next phase of the bypass.

“The priority for the Highways Revenue Fund remains safety and system preservation until a sustainable source of revenue instituted,” the email statement said.

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

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