Maui News

Kīhei roundabout sparks Maui residents’ traffic, project concerns

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Cones direct drivers near roadway construction along Pi’ilani Highway. PC: Kehaulani Cerizo
Kihei roundabout construction is under way along Pi’ilani Highway. PC: Kehaulani Cerizo
Vehicles are backed up late Wednesday morning due to roadwork on South Kihei Road. PC: Kehaulani Cerizo

Construction on the Kīhei roundabout — the first multilane roundabout on a state highway — is sparking several concerns among area residents. 

Some are questioning whether the state did enough to inform the community that the Piʻilani Highway project was coming, and others are saying a roundabout won’t be safe for pedestrians unless an underpass is constructed as well. 

All the while, a county project on South Kīhei Road happening at the same time is worsening traffic.  

“The state could’ve done more to communicate,” North Kīhei resident Dave Morrell, who lives in a neighborhood adjacent to the projects, said Wednesday. “The state and the county should communicate. I don’t know why they’re doing two projects at once in the peak of tourist season. We only have two roads in and out of here.” 

Jimmy Miyazono, another North Kīhei resident near the construction sites, said he knew the roundabout project was coming but not when it would start.  While he supports the roundabout, he doesn’t think the construction was planned well.

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“The problem is they do the job together — South Kīhei Road and up there,” he said, pointing toward Piʻilani Highway. “So traffic just pile up both sides.”

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Adam Wallace, who lives in North Kīhei, said the time it takes to pick up his son from school has doubled due to area construction.  

“I had no idea it was going to be like this,” he said. “For starters we were under the impression it would be an overpass or underpass, now they seemingly have scratched that and are putting a roundabout in there.” 

The state Department of Transportation, though, said public scoping was done for Kīhei roundabout plans.  

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Spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige pointed to public outreach via state Land Use Commission hearings, a joint state Department of Education community presentation on Jan. 12, 2021, and an Aug. 8, 2021, announcement in the state’s “Environmental Notice.” 

“We will start an educational campaign on using a multilane roundabout in June that will feature a video produced by Maui High School students,” Kunishige said via email Tuesday.  

Slated to open in November, the Kīhei roundabout will force drivers to slow down and provide pedestrians more safety than traffic signals and stop signs can offer, according to DOT. 

DOT also said the roundabout will create safe crossings for future students of the long-anticipated Kīhei High School, which is slated to open next year.

However, state LUC has maintained that an underpass must be constructed for the school to open. DOT had requested that the underpass be traded for the roundabout. 

“The roundabout will be a wonderful tool to keep Kīhei commuters moving as long as the requisite pedestrian-separated underpass the community has been asking for is included,” state Rep. Tina Wildberger, whose district covers South Maui, said Wednesday via text. “Without that, it will be a regular mess, and eventually pedestrians are going to be injured though not likely killed (because roundabouts slow traffic).” 

Kīhei Community Association has long advocated for the school and for safe pedestrian crossings. While the association supports the roundabout, members held a sign-waving demonstration last year to push for inclusion of the promised underpass. 

Construction on the Kīhei roundabout along Pi’ilani Highway near Kūlanihākoʻi Street began a couple weeks ago with an evening highway closure that kept some motorists stuck in traffic for hours.  

Around that time, hundreds of comments amassed on Maui Now’s social media pages questioning the shutdown, the traffic and the project.  

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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