Frequent traffic delays at new light stir call for solutions

  • RODENHURST

  • KANEALI‘I-KLEINFELDER

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Cars heading south wait Oct. 27, 2020, at the new traffic light at the intersection of Highway 11 and Kipimana Street.

A traffic light on Highway 11 near Keaau is causing consternation among residents and lawmakers alike, but there do not appear to be any immediate solutions, county officials say.

A new traffic signal at the intersection of Highway 11 and Kipimana Street — the entrance to Shipman Business Park — has frustrated commuters since it was installed in October, with frequent traffic delays following its activation.

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To address ongoing complaints, County Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder of Puna requested a presentation from county and state traffic officials at Tuesday’s meeting of the County Council Committee on Public Safety and Mass Transit.

“I think, when it started, we were all told to basically deal with it, and I didn’t take kindly to that,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said, adding that about 25,000 drivers pass through that intersection daily, so traffic snarls have major impacts. “We’ve pissed off all of Puna.”

Aaron Takaba, Traffic Division chief for the county Department of Public Works, said the light is necessary to improve the safety of the intersection and allow people leaving Kipimana Street a reasonable, safe window to enter or cross Highway 11.

However, Takaba acknowledged that the light causes, on average, about five minutes of delay for travelers on Highway 11, typically at about 5:30 p.m.

Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said that level of delay is unacceptable, and strongly encouraged DPW to find ways to reduce it on Highway 11.

Takaba said the DPW has experimented with increasing the amount of “green time” on Highway 11, but added that currently, the light is red for more than three minutes on Kipimana Street every cycle, which is itself almost an unacceptable wait.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the county remains in the grip of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with fewer people commuting to work and current traffic data not yet “normal,” said DPW Director Ikaika Rodenhurst.

“As traffic increases, whatever we do, we’ll have to re-optimize the light again,” Rodenhurst said.

Rodenhurst also said he has discussed with the state Department of Transportation the possibility of eventually upgrading the county’s traffic signal infrastructure, but added that such a possibility remains a long way off.

While Takaba’s presentation ended with no concrete solutions in sight, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder strongly encouraged DPW to consider making immediate changes to the signal’s timing to improve Highway 11 traffic in the short term while also pursuing eventual long-term improvements to the intersection.

However, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy urged Takaba and Rodenhurst to keep in mind the intersection’s history of traffic collisions before the signal was installed.

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“Five minutes is just five minutes,” Lee Loy said. “It’s not the same as a life.”

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

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