KIHEI, Hawaii (KHON2) — A new project is underway to make crossing a busy highway in Kihei safer for pedestrians. It’s also causing some headaches for residents, and not everyone thinks it will work.
Construction on the state’s first two-lane roundabout started last week. Motorists should expect some traffic delays especially during peak hours.
According to the Department of Transportation, roundabouts are considered a safer alternative to traffic signals and stop signs, while at the same time forcing drivers to slow down. The roundabout is being constructed to prepare for the opening of the long awaited Kihei High School, which will be ready for in-person instruction in January 2023.
The roundabout project on Piilani Hwy and Kulanihakoi Street is being looked at as a safe way for kids to cross the four lane highway to get to the school campus according to Kihei Community Association (KCA) President Mike Moran.
Moran said KCA has been in pushing for a roundabout as a safety measure for the school for years.
“The vast majority of the population lives makai,” he explained. “So now everybody’s going to have to cross that highway. We support it because of safety. Multimodal safety for all — drivers, bicyclists and walkers.”
Kihei resident Casey Logsdon, whose shop Maui Wedding Cakes is located near the area, isn’t convinced it will work.
“It’s a very busy four lane highway,” Logsdon said. “They’re adding more to it twice a day with the start of school and end of school, which kind of coincides with people going to work in Wailea.”
Ryan Suda lives and operates his business Suda Shades and Designs in Kihei. He said he’s seen two accidents in the past two days and expects to see more when the roundabout opens.
“You’re going to put a four lane roundabout, which some people have never been in, in their lives unless they’ve been to Europe,” Suda said. “Then you’re going to also add in the mix of a bunch of teenage drivers pulling into a high school.”
The hope is police will be there when it opens to prevent accidents.
The $16 million project is slated for completion in fall according to Hawaii Department of Transportation Deputy Director of Highways Ed Sniffen.
“We’re setting up the roundabout to be done by November, operational by November,” said Sniffen. “So there’s going to be two month timeframe before we open school that people can get used to that roundabout, used the safety in that area.”
Sniffen said DOT is opposed to building an overpass or underpass in the area. Any plans to do so would take a minimum of three years before construction would even begin.
“When we talked to the community, there is no appetite for an overpass,” Sniffen explained. “They’d like to see an underpass. But those underpasses are half a mile away in areas where we put our drainage or our storm flow, not necessarily an area that would put a pedestrian. Any kind of work below those areas to include an underpass would be significant work to the highway system either to extend the bridges that we have to increase the hydraulic opening, give ourselves a space where pedestrians can cross for an additional structures or something.”
Construction of an underpass or overpass are still required by the state land use commission to open the school. Moran said many are in favor of it.
“Getting kids off, and everybody completely off the highway, that is failsafe,” Moran said. “There’s no way they can get hit with a car if they’re not crossing the road.”
Those going into and out of Kihei should be prepared for delays for the duration of construction.
“I’m actually only about six houses away from it,” Suda said. “It’s been horrible. Traffic wise, it’s ludicrous.”
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According to Suda, additional roadwork on South Kihei Road are making matters worse.