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Traffic concerns stall Costco gas station expansion plans

Wholesale giant looking to add 10 fueling positions

Drivers line up to buy gas at Costco on Tuesday afternoon. Concerned over traffic in the area, the Maui Planning Commission voted on Tuesday to defer a decision on Costco’s request to add five fuel-dispensing islands – equivalent to 10 new fueling positions – at the popular gas station. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

After coming close to denying a permit that would allow Costco to expand its fueling station in Kahului, the Maui Planning Commission deferred a decision on Tuesday, citing concerns over traffic around the already crowded gas station.

Costco is proposing to add five fuel-dispensing islands — equivalent to 10 new fueling positions — at its existing station, which currently has 20 fueling positions that at peak times are packed with long lines of cars waiting for a fill-up.

Commission members were uneasy about traffic and pedestrian safety issues that they worried could be magnified with the addition of fueling positions. After more than six hours of discussion on Tuesday, they asked the applicant to come back in about three months with an updated comprehensive traffic impact study, a map of sea level rise impact around the area as well as recommendations for traffic concerns.

“With all of that I have heard and all of the concerns, it just seems there is still a massive uneasiness about this particular application,” commissioner Kellie Pali said. “I think I still feel I need more information. I feel like there is some information we have talked about that is clearly not available to us.”

Costco’s request last came before the commission on Feb. 11, 2020, when the commission deferred the matter to allow the applicant to address similar concerns over roadway traffic in the immediate area as well as internal parking lot traffic flow. Commissioners at the time were also interested in more electronic vehicle charging stations and the possible installation of solar panels on the fuel station’s canopy.

Costco currently has 20 fueling positions at its gas station and is looking to add five more fuel-dispensing islands, which would create 10 new fueling positions.

While Costco Wholesale Corporation did respond to last year’s concerns in writing and in a presentation Tuesday, members still had reservations and at one point were poised to vote to deny the special management area use permit. However, after an executive session called by Corporation Counsel Michael Hopper, the commission emerged from the closed-door session and continued to review possible conditions for the permit.

After more than two hours of attempting to hash out conditions, Pali made a motion to defer and request more information, saying she could “make a better choice” with more details on traffic, sea level rise and ways to mitigate traffic and safety concerns.

“This whole mess is because the traffic study that they did focused only on the gas station,” said commissioner Jerry Edlao, who supported the deferral. The study, Edlao said, “was just focusing on how they are going to come in from the main entrance and how they get to the gas station. There was no study into the impacts of the other areas, the surrounding areas.”

Edlao also wanted the county Public Works Department to look into the traffic situation more.

Costco and its consultants said Tuesday that video monitoring of key areas of traffic congestion showed that “the queuing of the fuel station line will not impact traffic patterns in the area.”

To assist with internal parking lot traffic flow, Costco will have an additional entrance to the station on Lauo Loop, which is located east of the main entrance, along with signage on Haleakala Highway to encourage entry into the fuel station via Lauo Loop, commission documents show.

A right-turn lane will be added at the first right turn off the main entrance by restriping the driveway.

Additional internal “stop” and “do not block intersection” signs will be installed at appropriate intersections within the property.

Costco said in planning documents that a traffic signal will be installed at the Haleakala Highway and Lauo Loop intersection subject to state Department of Transportation and county Public Works Department approval.

Last year, the commission had also suggested adding more electronic vehicle charging stations to the one currently on site, but John Ellingsen, a consultant providing real estate development and management services for Costco, said Tuesday that the single EV charging station is not used often and already met county standards.

However, he said later that Costco could turn the single station into two charging stations instead.

Costco’s consultants also said they could not use solar panels for the gas station canopy, as it would not reliably generate the amount of power to run the facility. The current canopy would not support a photovoltaic system and would have to be replaced in order to have a system installed.

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

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