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Opening of new high school on Maui delayed over lack of a pedestrian bridge

Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 4:57 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 28, 2021 at 10:16 PM HST
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KIHEI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new high school on Maui won’t be welcoming students to campus as planned next fall. The issue: The DOE failed to build a pedestrian bridge to the campus.

Busy Piilani Highway separates the new Kihei High School and the neighborhoods where many students live.

Back in 2013, the Land Use Commission set the requirement that either a pedestrian over or underpass was required for safety.

Commissioners accused the DOE of stalling and manipulating studies to avoid building the bridge.

“In my humble opinion, it’s dollars and cents,” Land Use Commission Vice Chair Dan Giovanni said. “They don’t want to spend the money for the safety of these children. They are looking for an alternative to save money.”

Commission members said they were in no way responsible for the delay of the school’s opening.

“I want to be clear that if Kihei High School is not able to open, it is not because of an action by LUC, but rather, inaction by the Department of Education to comply with the LUC conditions,” Commissioner Dawn Chang said.

“It’s a shame that this high school which is almost built will not be open on time,” said Giovanni. “To me, the fault for that is the DOE.”

DOE officials said the state Department of Transportation advised them that a pedestrian bridge was not necessary yet because only a few students were scheduled to start school in August 2022.

A DOE spokesperson also said the DOT traffic study in 2017 said that a pedestrian overpass would be under-utilized.

However, commissioners pointed to a March 2020 letter from the DOE to the Maui County Planning Department, which said it was committed to designing a pedestrian overpass, and that the design process had already begun.

“That contains a misleading statement, or statement which is misleading, about the intentions of the Department of Education,” said commissioner Gary Okuda.

DOT said a bridge could cost $20 million, and the department wants a less expensive option — a $16 million roundabout, which they hope will provide safe crossing options.

“A roundabout is the right solution in the area, and if a roundabout is built in that area, I don’t believe that a grade separated crossing is necessary,” Ed Sniffen of the state Highways Division told the commission.

“Traffic going into the roundabout isn’t as fast as it would be on the highway,” said Kihei area resident and parent Erin Hayden-Baldauf. “Cars are still going fast and they don’t always see kids in the crosswalk.”

The commission voted unanimously not to remove the bridge requirement, blocking the school from opening as planned.

Currently, public school students in Kihei are enrolled at Maui High School, which is overcrowded. But there are other charter school options in the area.

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