Mass Transit moves forward with Pahoa bus hub

  • A Hele-On bus sits at the Kona Kmart. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)

The Hawaii County Mass Transit Agency is taking the next steps for a new bus hub in Pahoa and will seek additional funding for the project from the County Council.

Mass Transit Administrator Brenda Carreira said Thursday the county is looking to purchase property at the intersection of Pahoa Bypass Road and Pahoa Kapoho Road for the hub.

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While nothing has been finalized, Carreira said Mass Transit will have a portion of the necessary money, about $550,000, for the new hub available in the next fiscal year, but the “land became available during this year’s budget, so we (have) to go back to the council and ask for more funds.”

Deputy Director of Finance Steven Hunt said Friday a request was submitted to the council to move $1.45 million from the general excise tax capital fund into the Mass Transit budget for capital improvements for the acquisition of the site and possibly further environmental studies and improvements to “move the project along.”

According to Hunt, a large portion of funds from the general excise tax was put into a capital fund to be used only by Mass Transit or for road improvements.

The request is to “move it into something that is now spendable,” which requires council action, he explained.

Mass Transit 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.

Long routes would run direct from the Pahoa hub to Hilo using large buses, while new circulator routes would travel within communities using smaller buses and continue throughout the day.

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 International to work with the community and Mass Transit to prepare that plan, which includes the recommendation to build transit hubs in Kona, Waimea and Pahoa.

This summer, the merits of six potential Puna sites were discussed during a community meeting in Pahoa.

The selected site, which was recommended by SSFM, has already been developed with a concrete access driveway, three buildings and has water and electricity.

Carreira said the location would take less work to finalize than other proposed locations.

She would like to get the hub done within the next year.

“I think nobody questions the need for this sort of infrastructure investment in Puna,” Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said. “This hub is, in my mind, essential for the county taking meaningful steps to implement the mass transit master plan.”

Kierkiewicz, whose uncle Gilbert Aguinaldo owns the property being considered, said she’s “optimistic in the process” and “pleased with the progress they’ve been making.”

According to Kierkiewicz, Puna has the highest number of ALICE, or asset limited, income constrained, employed, households in the state. These are working families living paycheck-to-paycheck who might be one accident or emergency away “from losing everything they have,” she said.

Public transportation is “another option for them to access education, jobs, resources (and) services,” said Kierkiewicz. “… Transportation is a barrier to access.”

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Increasing the availability of reliable public transportation is “fundamental in building strong, prosperous and healthy communities.”

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

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