Frustration with traffic flow: Council members seek answers about congestion, timing of signals

  • Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder

  • Rebecca Villegas

Hawaii County Council members were unhappy with the Department of Public Works’ efforts to relieve traffic congestion across the island.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit, Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder requested a presentation from Aaron Takaba, head of the DPW’s Traffic Division, to discuss the county’s shortcomings in managing traffic congestion.

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In particular, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder was critical of how long the Traffic Division has taken to reconfigure the timing of traffic signals at overly congested intersections.

Extensive delays at the intersection of Highways 11 and 130 — through which more than 2,000 vehicles pass per hour during peak traffic periods — took months to be addressed, for example, and multiple council members reported receiving hundreds of complaints from constituents around the island about traffic delays.

“In my district, at certain hours of the day, it is complete gridlock,” said Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas. “I think there is … an extreme disappointment with our traffic congestion.”

Takaba explained that re-timing the county’s more than 100 traffic signals is outsourced to private businesses, and cannot happen until workers confirm that the observation equipment at problematic intersections is accurately recording traffic data, which can take time.

However, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said the division should reconfigure how it operates and try to push quick, temporary fixes as quickly as possible before working on longer, more permanent solutions.

The committee was not entirely critical of the Traffic Division. Takaba reported that the timing a signal on Highway 11 near the Kamehameha Schools Hawaii entrance should be reconfigured within the next week in an effort to alleviate congestion, to which Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder reacted with relief.

However, Takaba summed up the division’s woes with, “we’re trying our best.”

Takaba said the division has investigated technology that can adapt signal timing to match traffic loads in real time, but the county’s infrastructure is not currently capable of supporting such a system.

Meanwhile, Takaba acknowledged, the county’s dwindling mass transit fleet has put more commuters in private vehicles, crowding the roads even more.

Villegas said she believes alleviating the traffic flow is worth a certain level of financial investment from the county because of global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

“If we can do something to reduce the number of cars idling in traffic, we need to do that,” Villegas said.

Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, meanwhile, said traffic represents wasted time.

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“You can’t give me back my life,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “But if you can save 20 minutes of travel time for everyone and make driving more efficient, then that’s almost as good.”

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

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