The next phase of the Lahaina Bypass – which will take the highway to Kaanapali – is being pushed back as a funding source took a “huge success” after the shutdown of tourism during the pandemic.
The Lahaina Bypass 1C project was to be built in the 2023 federal fiscal year using $70 million in public funds from the car rental surcharge, which was reduced by the pandemic, said Lauren Armstrong, executive director of the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization, the transportation planning agency. for the island of Maui.
And the state Department of Transportation, which proposed removing the project from a priority list, said it doesn’t know when the next phase might start next.
“The Rental Car Surcharge Fund has been hit hard by COVID and we are moving forward with what we can afford statewide,” said Ed Sniffen, deputy director of highways at the state Department of Transportation.
“The state does not have the funding to prioritize Phase 1C at this time, and does not have a timeline for its delivery,” he added.
Currently, the bypass deviates from the Honoapiilani Highway near “cut mountain” in Olowalu and goes to Keawe Street.
According to data from the State Department of Transportation, rental car surcharge fees received statewide in fiscal year 2020 totaled nearly $73 million, while funds received in fiscal year 2021 were about $32 million statewide. Officials said the funds are spent in the county where they were generated.
A breakdown of car rental funds by county was not immediately available.
With the funding available to DOT, Sniffen said the department would turn to other projects such as completing the Puunene Avenue widening and protecting the “vulnerable parts” of the Honoapiilani Highway against sea level rise, coastal erosion and storm surges.
It will also continue preservation and safety projects throughout Maui County, he said.
The next phase of the bypass, from Keawe Street to the Kaanapali Connector, was one of the projects listed on Maui’s Transportation Improvement Program.
DFO develops and maintains the list with input from its members, who are drawn from the state Department of Transportation, various Maui County departments, three members of the Maui County Board, and a Representative and Senator from the state of Maui.
The list details all transportation projects on Maui that use federal highway or transit funds or are regionally significant. By identifying projects in the program listing, Maui may receive funding for roads, bridges, bus transit, trails, paths and sidewalks.
But earlier this year, the DOT proposed removing funds for the Lahaina Bypass Phase 1C project from the list because limited rental car supplement funds take priority elsewhere.
The Maui MPO Policy Board approved the removal of the funds in March. While members considered public concerns about any delays in completing the project, they also noted the priority of completing the realignment of the Honoapiilani Expressway, Armstrong said.
DFO is now proposing to remove the project from the transportation improvement program list as it is not expected to occur within the plan’s four-year time frame. But she added that phase 1C “will be considered in future years for federal and state funding.”
As for trying to keep the bypass project on the list now, Armstrong said, “There is currently no policy for setting aside rental supplement funds for a project.”
When car rental surcharge funding levels recover, “further consideration for the timing of Phase 1C construction can be made and the lease supplement plan and Maui TIP can be adjusted”, Armstrong said.
But the moves don’t sit well with some in West Maui.
“I am opposed to removing anything (the TIP). Once you take something out, it can get lost somewhere,” said Joe Pluta, director of the West Maui Taxpayers Association. “It is not necessary to remove it, it can be noted that there may have been a delay in income.”
He pointed out that tourism over the past six months “exceeded all expectations.”
The West Maui Taxpayers Association initially lobbied for the creation of the Lahaina Bypass Project, with the state DOT and support from Maui County, Pluta said.
West Maui State Representative Angus McKelvey said he was disappointed the project was delisted “That’s an understatement.”
But he understands why the funding is no longer there and the need to realign the Honoapiilani Highway.
“Maslow’s hierarchy of needs dictates that the money be used to move the (Honoapiilani) highway now, because we are one wave away from being cut off,” he said. “But that doesn’t remove the need, the pressing need to get the bypass past Keawe Street.”
McKelvey said that before the end of the legislative session this month, he had already tried to get support for the use of general obligation callable bonds for the next phase of the circumvention.
By using this type of bond, the state will be reimbursed when car rental surcharge levels return, he said, explaining that the project currently relies on “direct income” obligations.
McKelvey, who is stepping down from his House seat to run for the state Senate seat for West and South Maui, said if elected, it will be his “number one priority” solicit the general obligation of callable bonds.
Pluta and McKelvey also stressed that completing the next phase of the bypass is essential for safety along Keawe Street, where the bypass currently ends.
“Keawe Street was never, ever intended to be a terminus”, said Pluta. “It was just a connecting road.”
“Everything they did there to try to make sure you could live and walk that road without getting killed, was amazing,” he added. “But there are near misses and accidents there every day, I see it all the time.”
Maui DFO is accepting comments until June 2 on the 2022-25 federal fiscal year transportation improvement program. For a list of proposed amendments and instructions on submitting comments, visit mauimpo.org.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected]