As seas rise, calls grow to move major Maui highway inland

Updated: Jun. 14, 2017 at 7:10 PM HST
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OLOWALU, MAUI (HAWAII NEWS NOW) - For years, the drive in and out of West Maui has been plagued with traffic and high surf splashing onto roads during south swells.

But after a recent round of king tides, Maui activists say the conditions on Honoapiilani Highway need to be addressed -- before the highway is washed away completely.

Video captured waves splashing onto the highway last month when the king tide mixed with a high swell.

"It shows how our highways are literally falling into the ocean and a hazard for drivers," said Tiare Lawrence, of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action.

Lawrence said some want to move the highway away from the ocean in sections, particularly a 2.5-mile stretch between Ukumehama and Olowalu.

The state Department of Transportation has estimated realigning the highway from the Pali to Maalaea would cost $500 million to $1 billion -- an investment Lawrence says is worth it.

"We know the funding is an issue, but by segmenting it, it would at least allow us to address those critical hazards," she said.

The state said during the king tides episode last month, precautions were taken and the highway did not sustain any damage.

With another king tide expected next week from Wednesday through Sunday, the state is working in advance to minimize damage risks to the road.

"Crews will continue to check storm drains and clear them as necessary, and will be ready to respond after the tide subsides as needed," state Transportation Department spokesman Tim Sakahara said.

In 2016, a portion of the highway was restriped to move traffic further mauka.

The state is also working on moving 1,000 feet of the Lahaina-bound lane 20 feet inland. Work on that project is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey said the community must work together to find solutions. 

"Getting the community involved in these conversations early will allow us to not only make sure short term solutions are carried out and what ever is carried out long term is not stuck in permitting hell," McKelvey said.

Maui Sen. Rosalyn Baker agreed and says solutions are not quick or cheap.

"If I could twitch my nose like the woman on Bewitched and fix it, I would have done it years ago," she said.

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