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State mulling long-term fix for highway

Project would improve Honoapiilani Highway’s most vulnerable areas

The state Department of Transportation is seeking input on its long-term plans to improve a 6-mile stretch of Honoapiilani Highway from Ukumehame to the southern terminus of the Lahaina Bypass. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

State officials are in the early stages of a long-term project to address the problems of coastal erosion and sea level rise along roughly 6 miles of Honoapiilani Highway.

For years, portions of the highway from Ukumehame to the southern terminus of the Lahaina Bypass have suffered from sea level rise and storm surge, with sea water sweeping onto the highway and causing erosion beneath it.

A 2019 statewide Coastal Highway Program Report ranked Honoapiilani Highway at Olowalu at No. 2 and Ukumehame at No. 12 in the state as the most critical out of 300 sites for ocean hazard vulnerability.

The state Department of Transportation has secured a federal grant of $22 million to assist with project costs for the approximately 6-mile stretch.

This week, DOT officials held two virtual meetings to hear from the public on what they envision, along with their concerns.

Robin Shishido, DOT’s Maui District engineer, said that the total cost for the project is currently estimated at $90 million. Funding will also come from the state and regular federal program funds. He anticipates construction beginning in mid-to-late 2025 at the earliest.

Shishido said plans are to move the highway further inland, although a route has not been determined yet. He said the realignment could affect both private and government lands.

Ensuring the land is evaluated for cultural resources, incorporating bikeways and installing medians were some of the community suggestions to the department during the meetings.

Saman Dias, chairwoman of the Maui Bicycling League, asked that state officials keep in mind the pathway of the West Maui Greenway when setting a more mauka route for realignment of Honoapiilani Highway.

The greenway is a proposed 25-mile multiuse trail that will one day connect Ukumehame and Lipoa Point, passing through multiple community destinations and downtown Lahaina along the way.

Dias asked that all stakeholders “be proactive” and work together now to avoid second thoughts in the end.

Shishido acknowledged that the DOT is already working with the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is developing the greenway.

As the long-term project to improve Honoapiilani Highway is still in its infancy, Shishido said emergency repairs have been and will continue to be done in the meantime.

In the past 10 years, the problematic stretch of the highway has been realigned three times after storms and high waves damaged the roadway.

Another project is currently in development to address erosion, including efforts to shift the highway inland from around Mile Post 12.97 to Mile Post 14 near Olowalu, according to the department.

DOT officials are still seeking input on their long-term plans for the stretch of highway from Ukumehame to the bypass, such as what other transportation-related issues the project should address, potential community partners who should be involved, land use and future plans as well as environmental and cultural resource information.

The state is working with the Federal Highway Administration on the project.

Comments can be made online at www.HonoapiilaniHwyImprovements.com or via mail to 869 Punchbowl St., 3rd Floor, Honolulu, HI 96813.

The early scoping comment deadline is March 25.

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

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