State seeks to move Lahaina highway

Honoapi‘ilani swaths would shift mauka amid erosion issues

Sweeping past toppled trees, high tide deposits sand on Honoapiilani Highway in Olowalu last October. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Pointing to sea level rise and king tide flooding impacts, the state Department of Transportation is proposing an approximately $4 million project to move two sections of Honoapi’ilani Highway in Lahaina about 12 feet mauka.

The Honoapi’ilani Highway Realignment Project would adjust two portions — a 4,100-foot swath in Ukumehame from Mile Marker 12.97 to 13.11 and a 1,000-foot segment in Olowalu from about Mile Marker 13.72 to 14.49. The two sections are deemed “critical” by a recent state coastal report, which identified Hawaii’s roadways most threatened by erosion. Other improvements include removing trees and relocating utility poles.

Still in its early phases, the DOT project would seek permits in the third quarter of this year and start construction in the middle of next year.

However, community members pushed back during a public meeting held by DOT on Thursday night, saying the proposed relocation is just a temporary fix for larger problems.

Portions of the state road from Ukumehame to Olowalu have been pummeled by rising tides in the past, and public safety, environmental and archaeological concerns about the highway date back decades.

A wave splashes on Honoapiilani Highway near the 13-mile marker in Ukumehame during a high tide in October last year. The state Department of Transportation is looking to move mauka two sections of highway in Ukumehame and Olowalu that are especially vulnerable to high tides and sea level rise.

“Who is making the decision to choose this Band-Aid approach instead of moving the road (more) mauka?” asked Maui resident Branden Hazlet, who said the DOT has presented the “same short-term thinking” for years.

Lahaina native Tiare Lawrence said West Maui is just “one storm away from a catastrophic situation” due to king tides, big waves and erosion impacting the “one road in and one road out.”

Lawrence, who’s long advocated for Honoapi’ilani improvements, said the community has requested realignment farther mauka — behind Kapa’iki Village — for many years.

“Here we are once again — the state is proposing a temporary fix,” she said Friday. “I would rather them take the $4 million and focus on full realignment of Honoapi’ilani.”

Robin Shishido, Maui District engineer for DOT, said during the meeting that any major change to the highway at large “takes a lot more effort” and that the state is focusing on the critical areas now.

“We are trying to address the priority areas,” said Shishido, who presented information along with project representatives from Austin Tsutsumi & Associates Inc. and Munekiyo Hiraga. “We don’t want them to become an emergency; we don’t want the road to be cut off to the west side.”

Terrance Arashiro, Austin Tsutsumi & Associates president, during the meeting said the state process of obtaining an environmental impact statement and working on the larger Honoapi’ilani realignment or bypass project is time consuming and may take several years.

“It’s unfortunate it takes that amount of time — but I just want to stress that we can’t wait for the bypass to happen,” he said. “We have to do something now.”

Other community concerns included traffic and noise impacts. Testifiers raised questions about coastal runoff during construction, shoreline access during construction and cultural sites in Olowalu.

A State of Hawaii Coastal Highway Program Report in 2019 said the Olowalu segment ranked No. 2 and the Ukumehame swath was No. 12 for “critical” roads that are susceptible to erosion and structural degradation.

By moving the highway east, away from the shoreline, the two segments will lie outside the anticipated 3.2-foot sea level rise, according to DOT.

As it is, the portions are subject to flooding during king tides or high surf that may hinder travel along the highway, the state said.

The Honoapi’ilani Highway Realignment Project requires special management area assessment and shoreline setback assessment and determination permits from the county. The project is undergoing archaeological consultation with the State Historic Preservation Division and preliminary engineering studies, the presenters said.

The project, which has been delayed due to the pandemic and state budget shortfalls, will use state special funds that are designated for highway construction and maintenance, according to Shishido.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.


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