Bridges, roads on borrowed time | News, Sports, Jobs

With hurricane season officially underway, a pair of articles in the Thursday edition of this newspaper caught our eye.

In the first article, US Senator Mazie Hirono called for making the realignment of the Honoapiilani Highway in Olowalu an infrastructure priority. The other story told how consultants discovered extensive storm damage to the Kukuiula Bridge on the Hana Highway between Kipahulu and Kaupo.

The Kukuiula Bridge is expected to be closed for at least two months as it undergoes repairs. While the closure is a joke for area residents, business owners and day-trippers hoping to circumnavigate Haleakala, we are fortunate that the damage was discovered before the bridge suffered catastrophic failure. .

The same goes for the Honoapiilani highway. It is fortunate that this vital lifeline for West Maui is finally attracting the attention of people who can get their hands on the money and resources to bring its realignment to the fore. Hopefully, the issues facing this low roadway can also be resolved before disaster strikes.

Just imagine the disruption to this island and its economy if the Honoapiilani Highway were closed for an extended period. It could happen. Rising seas and eroding coastlines mean ocean-side asphalt is already in imminent danger of being undermined by waves. The road is also vulnerable to flooding from the Olowalu and Ukumehame valleys. As one Lahaina resident said this week, “We live on borrowed time here.”

For the record, NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center and NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center forecast below normal tropical hurricane activity for Hawaii this year. Experts say the ongoing La Niña is expected to make it difficult for hurricanes to develop and move through the central Pacific.

Even if Maui makes it through hurricane season unscathed, that doesn’t mean a humid tropical depression can’t park over the West Maui mountains and dump a foot of rain in an hour. As we learned last year in Kula, Kihei and Haiku, a storm doesn’t need a name to wreak havoc.

Going back and forth from Lahaina, we cross many small culverts and bridges. All it would take is for one of these culverts to become clogged with storm debris during a flash flood to see a significant portion of the highway washed away.

We wonder if anyone has dusted off Maui County’s 2005 Pali to Puamana Parkway Master Plan. Championed by former planning director Mike Foley, the proposed $108.8 million project would move the entire 8-mile stretch of the highway inland and create parks and open spaces in the resulting void. If necessary, the existing roadway would be converted into parking lots, cycle paths and emergency access roads.

We liked the concept in 2005 and still do. As Maui attracts the attention of movers and shakers, why not push for a complete solution to this vulnerable stretch of highway? That would be a much better solution than taking a piecemeal approach.

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