A Hawaii County Council committee will discuss this week whether the county should acquire private roads to improve traffic flow throughout the island.
A bill, to be introduced at Wednesday’s meeting of the Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit by Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, would amend the county code to allow the county to acquire roads that are part of commonly used alternate routes so that they can be better maintained as official mass transit, evacuation or connectivity routes.
“This bill is the culmination of one and a half years of disappointment,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said.
The councilman said that he has met with county officials to discuss acquiring certain private roads for the better part of two years, particularly after major traffic jams in Puna such as “Carmageddon” last August. However, no progress has been made on that front whatsoever, he said.
“There’s been a very standardized response whenever I ask about it,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “They say we don’t acquire private roads. That’s it.”
In order to change that policy, the bill would create criteria that would categorize certain roads — such as those that are commonly known to the general public as ways to circumvent major county transit routes — as “alternate routes,” “connectivity routes,” “evacuation routes” or “mass transit routes.”
These routes could then be acquired and dedicated by the county, allowing the county to then improve the roads to meet standards and designate them with proper signage.
The bill also lists two proposed routes in Puna: one route would cut through the Orchidland Estates subdivision, designating 40th Avenue as an alternate and mass transit route; the other cuts through Hawaiian Acres, designating Koloa Maoli, Ale and Moho roads as alternate, evacuation and mass transit routes.
“Just about all of Puna is private subdivisions,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “Some of them don’t even collect road fees. It makes no sense for the subdivisions to be held accountable for 50,000 vehicles going over their roads.”
While Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder predicted that subdivision community associations will be broadly supportive of the bill — pointing out that the associations don’t have enough money to maintain their most heavily trafficked roads on their own — some may be skeptical.
Patrice Macdonald, former president of the Hawaiian Acres Community Association, said her subdivision has been financially wracked by heavy traffic on Moho Road, but the county has resisted every effort to pay for the road’s maintenance.
“They’re shoving every commercial truck on the island onto this road,” Macdonald said, adding that Moho Road has no sidewalks, and is therefore too dangerous for residents to traverse on foot.
Maintenance of the road has fallen onto the association’s membership, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, she said.
Although the bill originated with Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder’s attempts to alleviate traffic problems in Puna, the councilman said other council members will be free to propose routes of their own, but added that he expects the bill will generate lively discussion at Wednesday’s meeting of the Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit — which will, like all County Council meetings, be held online for social distancing purposes.
“We’ll be talking about it,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “But we can only talk about something for so long before we actually do something.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.