State aims to move parts of Maui road inland as seas rise

WAILUKU — Hawaii officials have proposed moving parts of a Maui coastal highway that experts say are among the roads most vulnerable to erosion and rising sea levels in the state, but some community members say the plan doesn’t go far enough.

The state Department of Transportation plans to spend $4 million moving two sections of Honoapiilani Highway in Lahaina about 12 feet inland. The department plans to start construction in the middle of next year, The Maui News reported.

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One segment, in Ukumehame, spans 4,100 feet while the other in Olowalu is 1,000 feet. The department said the move would place the sections outside the reach of an anticipated 3.2-foot rise in sea levels.

But community members criticized the plan during a public meeting held by department officials last week, saying the proposed relocation would just be temporary fix.

“Who is making the decision to choose this Band-Aid approach instead of moving the road (more) mauka?” asked Maui resident Branden Hazlet, using the Hawaiian word for inland.

Lahaina native Tiare Lawrence said West Maui is just “one storm away from a catastrophic situation” due to king tides, big waves and erosion impacting the “one road in and one road out.”

Lawrence said the community has requested realignment farther inland for many years.

“I would rather them take the $4 million and focus on full realignment of Honoapiilani,” she said.

Robin Shishido, Maui District engineer for the department, said during the meeting that any major change to the highway at large “takes a lot more effort” and that the state was focusing on the critical areas now.

Terrance Arashiro, president of Austin Tsutsumi & Associates, which has been working on the project, said the process of conducting an environmental impact statement and working on the larger Honoapiilani realignment or bypass project was time consuming and may take several years.

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“It’s unfortunate it takes that amount of time — but I just want to stress that we can’t wait for the bypass to happen,” he said. “We have to do something now.”

A 2019 State of Hawaii Coastal Highway Program Report ranked the Olowalu segment No. 2 and the Ukumehame swath No. 12 among “critical” roads susceptible to erosion and structural degradation.

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