New phase of Lahaina bypass creates gridlock for Maui residents

LAHAINA, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The opening of a new traffic solution for West Maui ended up creating a nightmare for many drivers on Monday.

The third segment of the Lahaina Bypass is designed to alleviate congestion.

"I know people are mad and I don't blame them. I was swearing myself in the car," said State Sen. Roz Baker.

Wailuku resident Denise Brito said she left home extra early and still ended up half an hour late for work in Kaanapali.

"They need a lot of help out there. I had four people on my team who also drove out from that side of the island, from Kihei as well as Wailuku, and they were all late to work," she said. "It took them the whole two hours to get out to work."

The latest phase of the bypass covers 2.7 miles from "Cut Mountain" near Olowalu to Keawe Street in Lahaina. The state is moving the main route to and from West Maui farther inland due to the threat of shoreline erosion along parts of the existing Honoapiilani Highway.

Maui lawmaker Angus McKelvey boycotted the blessing for the $38.6 million project.

"It's not ready. You need to perhaps slow down or even hold it until you finish the next segment and they've just continued to be full charge ahead, we don't care what the community thinks," he said.

Hawaii Department of Transportation officials said crews had to delay the 6:00 a.m. opening by 35 minutes due to re-striping for the switch, leading to gridlock.

"The striping, regardless of if we opened today or two weeks from now or a month from now, that striping would still have to occur the night before we switch the traffic over," explained Ed Sniffen, HDOT's deputy director for highways.

Officials said slowdowns are also being caused by utility work which should be done in a week and a half.

"The bypass is finished. The work is ready to open up to the public," said Sniffen. "Absolutely it's going to get better from here. There's generally an adjustment period with any new improvement."

Average travel times on the bypass heading north from Cut Mountain to Keawe Street were 12-14 minutes and 8-9 minutes in the southbound direction, according to the DOT.

The state will continue to monitor traffic conditions during the next three weeks.

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