Puna mulls bus hub options

  • A nearly 20-acre lot near the Pahoa Police Station is one of six locations identified around the community for a proposed bus hub in Pahoa. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

PAHOA — More than two dozen people gathered Wednesday night in Pahoa to discuss the merits of six locations identified around the community for a proposed bus hub.

Hawaii County Mass Transit Agency plans to increase bus service in Puna and covert to a hub-and-spoke system, meaning there are two types of routes that meet at a central location where passengers can transfer from one to the other.

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Long routes would run direct from the Pahoa hub to Hilo using large buses, while new circulator routes would travel within communities and include Hawaiian Beaches-Nanawale-Seaview and Hawaiian Paradise Park-Ainaloa-Orchidland. These routes would use smaller buses and continue throughout the day.

Cheryl Soon with consulting firm SSFM International led the presentation and told the crowd that the Puna Community Development Plan, adopted in 2008, called for an islandwide master plan for a transit system and recommended a hub-and-spoke system in Puna.

The county hired SSFM to work with the community and Mass Transit to prepare that plan, she explained. Within the master plan, it was recommended to build transit hubs in Kona, Waimea and Pahoa.

“We had a meeting in March where we started the conversation with the community, and people started coming up with alternate sites that they thought of,” she said. “So we’re back here tonight to talk about the sites and the information we learned about them to see if they’re suitable and, most importantly, get feedback from you.”

Soon said bus hubs should be in a central location, close to businesses, schools and shops, and can include shelters and benches, multiple pull-outs for the buses to wait and load, proper signage and lighting, places for passengers to be dropped off, locations for taxi or ride-share pickups, possible park-and-ride spaces and possibly bathroom facilities.

Six possible locations for a hub near Pahoa were discussed:

Site 1 — near Puna Kai Shopping Center, which is currently under construction. Soon said land directly behind the center is owned by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The shopping center is leasing some of that land for parking, and the concept would be to lease additional lands from DLNR.

Site 2 — between Puna Kai and Pahoa Marketplace. Soon said that land is privately owned “and we don’t know if the owner has an interest in selling the property.”

Site 3 — county-owned land adjacent to the Pahoa police and fire stations.

Site 4 — across the street from the Pahoa Community Center, the former Akebono Theater.

“But we think that’s off the table now, because we think that they actively have other uses they’re putting it to,” Soon said.

Site 5 — county-owned land behind Pahoa District Park, near the skate park.

Site 6 — intersection of Pahoa Bypass Road and Pahoa Kapoho Road. This site is “ironically, what you used to call The Hub,” Soon said.

During the hourlong discussion, support was voiced for a number of the proposed locations. Much discussion centered around sites 3, 5 and 6.

County Managing Director Wil Okabe said after the meeting that the Pahoa hub will be the first Hawaii Island bus hub outside of Hilo.

According to Okabe, after all information is gathered, SSFM will make a recommendation to the county’s transit administrator, and the mayor’s office will propose it to the County Council.

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There’s no timeline in place, he said, and each of the sites discussed Wednesday presents different challenges.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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