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Waipio road bill discussed, postponed

  • Courtesy photo/File In this image from a 2019 YouTube video posted by Big Island Off Road Adventures, a vehicle makes its way down Waipio Valley Road.

A discussion by Hawaii County Council members about the possibility of closing Waipio Valley Road to pedestrians was impassioned but inconclusive Thursday.

During Thursday’s meeting of the Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit, outgoing Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter presented a bill to close pedestrian access to the very steep, one-lane road into Waipio Valley for safety reasons, but also postponed decision making on the motion in order to prolong the discussion into future meetings.

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Waipio Valley Road, Poindexter said, is “unlike any other county road,” in that the only motor vehicles that can safely traverse it are four-wheel drive vehicles. Despite this, the road also sees a high amount of traffic thanks to Waipio Valley’s popularity as a tourist site.

The combination of dangerous terrain and high traffic is a recipe for disaster, Poindexter said.

However, Poindexter said, public safety is only one issue regarding the road that needs to be addressed.

“The purpose of the road, originally, was for the residents and farmers of the valley,” she said. “But now, unfortunately … because it is a public road, we have to allow the public access.”

Poindexter said valley residents have expressed concerns about the impact of high traffic on the primary road they depend upon for their livelihoods.

Several residents testified during the meeting in support of the bill, echoing Poindexter’s concern.

“The hill’s gotten more and more congested over the years. … Everybody wants to get a selfie by the waterfall now,” said Waipio taro farmer Jim Cain. “Frankly, it’s amazing nobody’s been killed yet.”

However, another testifier, Sheena Lopes, said removing pedestrians from the road is “only one solution for one issue,” and won’t necessarily reduce the high traffic on the road.

Poindexter pointed out that, while high pedestrian traffic on the road is dangerous for themselves and public health — pointing out multiple times that limited bathroom facilities in the area have led to visitors “urinating and defecating everywhere” — out-of-state drivers who don’t understand the dangers of the area or how to control four-wheel-drive vehicles are themselves also hazards.

While Poindexter said her intention is not to block visitors from visiting the valley, her priority is to protect the safety and way of life for its residents.

Other council members were supportive of the motion, but Poindexter moved to postpone her bill to allow for further discussion by the public, the council and Heather Kimball, who was elected Tuesday to be Poindexter’s successor.

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The bill will be discussed again during the next meeting of the committee on Nov. 17.

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

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