First day of contraflow ‘very smooth’

A new traffic pattern on Highway 130 did not cause significant delays Monday morning despite previous complaints about the project.

The state Department of Transportation began its contraflow project on Keaau-Pahoa Road Monday morning in an effort to alleviate rush-hour traffic and congestion. And although preliminary work for the project caused significant traffic delays earlier this month, few delays were reported Monday.

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“I haven’t heard a lot of complaints compared to a few weeks ago,” said Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder. “I’ve seen a few posts on social media, I’ve gotten a few calls, a few emails, but it hasn’t been that bad.”

The project opens a second northbound lane on Highway 130 between Puakalo Street and Shower and Pohaku Drives on weekdays between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m. Restriping work on the highway in advance of the project caused substantial traffic snarls on Aug. 8, leading to worries that the contraflow would also cause delays.

“When I started driving, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, here we go,’” said Keaau High School Principal Dean Cevallos, who said he encountered traffic delays before entering the contraflow. “And then when I got into the contra, it was very smooth.”

Chad Farias, superintendent for schools in Ka‘u, Keaau and Pahoa, said he heard no reports of delayed school buses Monday, while Cevallos said all buses arrived at Keaau High School on time.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said the department has not heard much feedback regarding the contraflow itself, but has received significant complaints regarding a related casualty of the project.

In an effort to reduce attempts by highway traffic to save time by detouring through Hawaiian Paradise Park, a dedicated right turn lane was removed from Shower Drive where it intersects with the highway.

This removal has made access to the highway from HPP difficult during contraflow hours, Kunishige said.

One HPP resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was stuck in traffic for nearly 50 minutes waiting to turn right on Shower Drive onto Highway 130.

Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said HPP will be safer now that less traffic will divert through the subdivision, but added that there are “a lot of headaches” with the removal of the Shower Drive right turn lane.

Kunishige said the department will wait for more traffic data to come out of the project before considering whether to reinstate the right-turn lane.

Based on a trial project in 2018, the contraflow project is projected to save drivers an average of 15 minutes — at least, after drivers are used to it.

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“I’m wanting to see a good traffic pattern in like a week, when everyone’s used to it,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “Everyone loved it last year.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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