DOE will build underpass or overpass to Kihei high school

This follows LUC vote reaffirming project condition

State Land Use Commission Chairman Jonathan Scheuer swears in a testifier during Wednesday’s meeting at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The commission voted 6-0 to reaffirm its requirement that an overpass or underpass be built across Piilani Highway before the opening of Kihei high school. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photos

KAHULUI – The state Department of Education said Wednesday that it will comply with the requirement to build an overpass or underpass across Piilani Highway to Kihei high school — but not until after the school opens.

“The DOE will comply with the requirement to construct a grade-separated pedestrian crossing, such as an overpass or underpass, commencing with the preparation of requisite technical studies and coordination with the state Department of Transportation,” department spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said.

Kalani added that “we are anticipating the overpass will be completed after the scheduled opening of the school and will be proposing interim pedestrian crossing measures in the meantime.”

The DOE does not yet have cost estimates.

The statement came hours after the state Land Use Commission voted to reaffirm what it said in 2013 — that a pedestrian overpass or underpass must be built before the opening of the school.

Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel Tom Kolbe addresses the state Land Use Commission.

“There’s a very clear and unambiguous meaning, I believe, that we put on this condition, and it had to do with the life and death of the most precious people in our community — our kids,” Chairman Jonathan Scheuer said during the meeting at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Wednesday.

DOE officials did not attend the meeting.

Safe crossing measures to the school have been a source of frustration among community members and commissioners, who have criticized the DOE’s plans to only build a traffic signal at the busy intersection to the school.

At a February meeting, a DOE official said that a traffic report and pedestrian study approved by the state Department of Transportation in 2017 “show current conditions warrant a signalized intersection at Piilani Highway and Kulanihakoi Street” but not an overpass or underpass.

The commission can’t force the DOE to do anything because work is already ongoing at the site. However, the goal of Wednesday’s vote was to give clearer guidance to the county, which does have enforcement power.

Planning Director Michele McLean said that if the DOE plans to open the school without an overpass or underpass, “that would be a violation of the Land Use Commission condition and county zoning, and they would be cited for that.

“But I think before things would get to that point, they wouldn’t be able to open the school without, for example, a certificate of occupancy, and we would not sign off on that until we saw that the principle conditions were met,” McLean said.

McLean said that after Wednesday’s clear vote, she didn’t understand how the DOE could agree to build an overpass or underpass but not until after the opening.

“I really hope they change their minds on that,” she said. “It’s flying in the face of the Land Use Commission, the County Council and the community.”

Andrew Beerer, chairman of the Kihei High School Action Team, believed the DOE had enough time to build an overpass or underpass (he favors the latter) before the school opens.

“There’s a huge amount of grading to be done, and they have to do all the vertical buildings, put in all the utilities,” he said. “In the time it takes to do that, is there enough time to build an overpass? Absolutely. So I don’t see why there would be a delay.”

The school is projected to open for the 2021-22 academic year, but Beerer thought 2023 might be more realistic based on the current pace and the fact that protests have been filed over bids for Phase 2 of the project.

Beerer said he was glad that the commission was holding the DOE accountable on the project’s conditions.

“It’s too bad that they’ve lost five years of time to work on it,” he said. “But the end result is that there will be safer pedestrian infrastructure and a safe route to school, and it will decrease the amount of trips and the traffic on the highway.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, nearly a dozen Kihei residents testified on the dangers of four-lane Piilani Highway and the advantages of an overpass or underpass.

A state Department of Transportation highways website showed the average daily traffic count at 42,400 vehicles on Piilani Highway in that area.

Brenda Brown said her son is a 7th-grader at Lokelani Intermediate and has a chance to attend Kihei high school.

“But once I heard that there was not going to be a safe route, I was willing to again sacrifice my son going to high school in Kihei to have the safe route there,” Brown said. “Imagining children are crossing that road — at high school age, they’re absent-minded. They make silly mistakes. Anything could happen. So I just don’t think we should risk that.”

Mike Moran, president of the Kihei Community Association, said that when the new Kihei Charter School campus opened mauka of the highway in the Maui Research & Technology Park, “we are hit with community complaints about the chaotic situation created twice each day with the overwhelming intersection.”

“Right here we see proof of how the situation would be improved by a safe walking path under the highway,” Moran said. “Not only would it be safer, it could reduce vehicle traffic. . . . If our community can see it, if our county government can see it, and this commission can see it, why does the DOE refuse to?”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.


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