HILO —A petition signed by about 200 people is asking Mayor Harry Kim’s administration to reopen a popular Kainaliu turnaround that helped drivers negotiate left turns on busy Mamalahoa Highway.
But a county official said Tuesday it’s unlikely the turnaround will be put back into service because of safety concerns and the cost of renewing the lease for the privately owned land the turnaround is on.
The turnaround, just south of Kainaliu Village, served the community for about five years before being blocked by traffic stanchions, said Kealakekua resident Grant Kobayashi. He said shoppers were able to avoid lengthy waits for left turns in the middle of the village by driving south and using the turnaround.
Kobayashi sent a letter, along with 13 pages of signatures, to Kim on Feb. 5, asking that the turnaround be reopened.
“I just thought I’d do my civic duty,” Kobayashi said about the letter and petition-gathering. “I got 1,000 percent support for it.”
The petition is signed by residents and businesses in town as well as those in neighboring Kailua-Kona, Honaunau, Captain Cook and others.
David Yamamoto, director of the county Department of Public Works, said the turnaround, constructed in 2009, was closed in 2013. He said the left-hand turn was backing up traffic to the turnaround, which basically was creating a U-turn ability on the highway.
“That was not necessarily the best solution, but it was a temporary solution,” he said.
A better solution would be a roundabout, but that kind of traffic structure is costly, requires more right of way and takes time for engineering and permits, he said.
Yamamoto said traffic on the road has decreased since the county completed the Mamalahoa bypass in 2016, which extended the 3.5-mile bypass another 2.2 miles south from Kealakekua to a new signalized intersection with Mamalahoa Highway in Napoopoo.
“We felt that should have taken care of the solution,” he said.
The department is doing more research on the issue and will be responding to Kobayashi’s letter soon, Yamamoto said.
Kobayashi said the turnaround was created under former Mayor Billy Kenoi’s administration and he thought it was well-engineered, with a clearly marked left-turn lane and sufficient space to make the turnaround. He said he wanted to ask Kim to reopen it shortly after he took office in late 2016.
“I waited a while. He had his hands full with the lava flow and his heart attack,” Kobayashi said. “I didn’t want to pressure him.”
Kobayashi said he knows a lot of people and “we love Harry.”
But, he added, “Somebody dropped the ball on this one.”