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State Legislature allocates $110M for Paia bypass

Project put on hold in February while DOT reassesses funding

State lawmakers have set aside $110 million for the Paia bypass, an attempt to boost the long-awaited project that’s been delayed by limited funding and concerns over the route.

Sen. J. Kalani English, whose district includes East Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe, said Thursday that the project is “still a long ways out,” but that lawmakers wanted to make sure the funds were available when needed.

“This is signaling that the legislative side of it wants this to be done,” English said. “We’re hoping that the department and the MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organization) can figure it out, and then they can work with the local communities on the exact alignment.”

The bypass funds were among the $337.4 million in capital improvement projects that Maui County received this legislative session, including $58.2 million for schools, $56.5 million for Kahului Harbor, $46.3 million for Maui District airports and $12 million for Maui Health System, which runs Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital.

The Paia bypass, which would provide an alternate route to Hana Highway that would skirt Paia town, is the biggest-ticket item on the county’s CIP slate. The $110 million covers the land acquisition, design and construction of the bypass, also known as the Paia Relief Route.

In February, the state Department of Transportation announced that it was putting the environmental assessment for the bypass on hold while it prioritized major Maui road projects and assessed potential funding from the $2 rental car surcharge passed by the Legislature last year. The department said that the surcharge could bring in up to $8.9 million for Maui, according to industry estimates.

Ed Sniffen, DOT deputy director for highways, said at the time that “we must look realistically at our available highways funding and the very real need to maintain our existing roads.” The bypass also was competing for funds with the realignment of Honoapiilani Highway and the northern terminus of the Lahaina bypass.

English said Thursday that the decision to put the Paia bypass on hold came as a surprise to lawmakers.

“I don’t think the department can say there isn’t enough funds now, can they?” English said.

However, the project also has been stalled by concerns over the bypass’ alignment. A proposed route that the department brought to the community last April would start at Baldwin Beach Park and move mauka and parallel to Hana Highway, continuing on Poni Place until Milepost 9, just past Hookipa Beach Park.

Some residents were willing to “take whatever you can get” for the project to move forward. But others suggested a longer route along old Alexander & Baldwin cane roads that would start from Kala Road in Kahului and continue onto Sunny Side Road, which becomes Paia Mill Road and eventually Lower Hamakuapoko Road before ending near Maliko Gulch.

Lauren Armstrong, executive director of the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization, said that while gathering input for the 2019-22 Maui transportation improvement plan, “we did hear a lot of public support for the Paia Relief Route, but the alignment proposed by the state last year was not acceptable to everyone in the community.”

Residents listed the Paia Relief Route as the highest priority project in a February 2018 Maui MPO survey that drew 170 responses, half of which were from the Paia-Haiku area.

Since the MPO helps plan for federally funded projects, the organization’s involvement in the Paia bypass depends on the project getting federal funding. A representative from English’s office said Thursday that the project does include federal monies, which may extend the time the department has to use the funds.

“Like it or not, we do have to provide relief to the area,” English said. “That’s why we put this amount of money in to show that we are committed to making sure the infrastructure’s in place to meet the needs of the growing population.”

DOT spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said Thursday that the department would be restarting community discussions on the bypass.

“The longer route supported by the community will require additional study and environmental clearances,” she said.

For more information, visit paiareliefroute.com. Click “Project Information” and scroll down to “Meeting #12” to view the alternative routes.

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