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Paia bypass work put on hold by DOT

Agency also looking at ways to use new rental car surcharge money

Rush-hour traffic jams are a way of life for residents passing through Paia town to get to work in Central Maui and back home. The state Department of Transportation has put its work on an environmental assessment for a Paia bypass on hold. This photo was taken in February last year. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The state Department of Transportation has put the Paia bypass development process on hold while working on prioritizing major road projects for the entire island and how to use limited funds available.

A new source of funding for new highways is a $2 rental car surcharge passed in the 2018 Legislature, which could raise about $8.9 million annually, according to industry estimates. This is not nearly enough to fund projects like the Paia and Lahaina bypasses, which each run in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Deputy Director for Highways Ed Sniffen said last week that the department is considering options for use of the rental car surcharge funds and other ways to raise money for new road construction. One option under consideration is borrowing on anticipated earnings from the rental car surcharge, which would allow the department to raise enough money for a new roadway project, he said.

“We would still need to work with the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization and county officials to determine the project with the most benefit to Maui residents,” he said in an email last week.

The decision to put the Paia bypass, which was in the environmental assessment process, on hold does not mean the department “does not support this project,” he said.

A planned bypass to help alleviate traffic jams in Paia town on Hana Highway has been put on hold. The Department of Transportation said there are limited funds for roadway improvements and it wants county entities and lawmakers to prioritize projects. This photo was taken in July 2017.

“When funding sources are identified and prioritization of the Maui capacity projects are set through coordination with MMPO, County of Maui, area legislators and the public, we will restart the project,” Sniffen said.

But the Paia bypass, which is expected to cost between $50 million and $150 million depending on the alignment, will be competing for funding with projects, such as the Honoapiilani Highway Pali to Puamana realignment, which is estimated to cost $250 million; the Lahaina bypass Phase 1C, which will take the bypass from Keawe Street to beyond Puukolii Road for an estimated cost of $70 million; and the Lahaina bypass Phase 2, lane widening of existing phases with a price tag of $40 million.

“While we believe that these projects would improve the quality of life for Maui residents, heighten visitor experience and boost the economy, we must look realistically at our available highways funding and the very real need to maintain our existing roads,” Sniffen said.

The decision to suspend the environmental assessment process for the Paia bypass was made because of the lack of funding, he said, noting that the department has put an emphasis on repair and repaving roads for safety reasons.

The Paia bypass alignment as originally considered was determined unfeasible with current available funding so the department investigated other options “to deliver the capacity project to the community given the limited resources,” Sniffen said.

“Shorter alignments were developed that would have been affordable and benefcial from a traffic relief perspective,” he said.

The department presented its proposal at an April community meeting. The route had the Paia bypass starting at Baldwin Beach Park and going through Poni Place before ending just after Hookipa Beach Park.

The estimated cost then was $45.5 million.

At the April meeting, most in attendance were against the department’s proposal and supported a longer route that began at Kala Road and continued on Sunny Side Road before eventually reaching Lower Hamakuapoko Road and ending near Maliko Gulch. Many advocated using old cane haul roads for the route that would cross Baldwin Avenue at Paia Mill, higher up the hill from Poni Place.

The department came to the conclusion that the shorter, cost-effective alignment was not supported by the community, said Sniffen.

The department had continued to pursue the Paia bypass and was preparing a draft environmental assessment when the decision to put the process on hold was made, Sniffen said.

“We still have all the information and work product we had developed throughout the initial phases and will be sharing this information through our website as was requested by the community,” he said.

Traffic backs up, especially at the Baldwin Avenue-Hana Highway traffic signal in Paia, a crossroads for travel from East and Central Maui and Upcountry. This corridor is the main route for visitors headed to East Maui; residents in the growing communities of Paia and Haiku use the route to get to and from work and Central Maui.

The department’s 2017 traffic count showed 18,800 vehicles daily using Hana Highway on the Kahului side of the intersection and 14,900 vehicles daily using the road on the other side of the intersection.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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