Maui Council committee likely to discuss new high school’s highway crossing dilemma
August 31, 2022, 6:33 PM HST
* Updated September 1, 10:45 AM
At its meeting Sept. 1, the Maui County Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee likely will discuss the ongoing dilemma about how pedestrians and bicyclists will safely cross four-lane Piʻilani Highway to the new Kūlanihākoʻi High School in Kīhei.
The agenda says the committee may discuss the high school project’s 10-month-old 2021 annual report from the Hawai’i State Department of Education, and related matters.
Nothing about the high school will be decided in the meeting. But committee members can try to get answers from the Department of Education, which still says the plan is to open the high school to a limited number of ninth graders in January — despite the lack of a state-required overpass or underpass to cross the highway.
The fastest timeframe such a crossing now can be built is about three years, and it could take up to six years, according to Department of Education consultants. There also is the issue of funding. Right now, there is no money earmarked for such a project.
The council committee meeting takes place at 9 a.m. at the Council Chamber, on the 8th floor of the Kalana O Maui Building, 200 South High Street in Wailuku. It also can be viewed online at https://bluejeans.com/149341846.
Maui County Planning Director Michele McLean reiterated on Tuesday that the County can not give the school a certificate of occupancy in January unless the Department of Education obtains an amendment to the grade-separated crossing requirement from the state Land Use Commission. This requirement was put in place in 2014, as part of the rezoning of 77 acres from agriculture to urban for the school.
The Department of Education already tried to get the Land Use Commission to grant them an amendment that would allow for the opening of the school with only a roundabout and ground-level crossing. It offered a commitment to future studies about providing a grade-separated pedestrian crossing. The Land Use Commission agreed with Maui County and denied the request in April 2019.
Despite that denial, the Department of Education, with the backing of the Hawai’i State Department of Transportation, rolled the dice and spent $16 million on the controversial roundabout with only a road-level crosswalk with rapid flashing beacons. Their plan was to gather data about the roundabout once it was in operation to “hopefully” show it was safe and other crossings were not necessary.
At this late juncture, McLean said if the Department of Education still plans to open in January it needs to quickly come up with a proposal about using busses, crossing guards or some alternate plan to safely transport or guide students and others across the highway.
Then, that proposal would need to be presented to the Land Use Commission as a temporary solution — during the time when the school only would have limited enrollment, and just until the permanent overpass or underpass could be completed. The Land Use Commission would have to approve the amendment in order for the county to sign off on the certificate of occupancy.
“We’d be happy to work with them [the Department of Education] on language or ideas,” McLean said, adding that there is an “appetite” for a temporary solution as long as there is a guarantee a permanent crossing will be constructed as soon as possible.
“The kids want to go to the new school, but like I’ve been saying, we’re not going to sign off on anything unless there is compliance and a plan in which kids or parents won’t get hurt, or worse,” McLean said.
The Department of Education communications department did not respond to a request for an interview or to questions sent via email on Wednesday morning.
With the roll of the dice to open the school with only the grade-level crossing at the roundabout appearing to fail, the Department of Education is scrambling to come up with a proposal for a temporary solution that could be approved by the Land Use Commission, Maui County and the Department of Education.
It hired Maui-based consultants, Skog Rasmussen, to conduct five community “listening sessions,” which 60 people attended in August.
Two questions were asked about temporary solutions:
- Until a long-term crossing solution is found, what do you recommend for a temporary solution?
- I can support the school opening before a grade-separated pedestrian crossing is built if … (fill in the blank).
Tina Rasmussen said the information gathered at the community focus groups was incorporated into a five-minute survey that soon will be available for Maui County residents to take. It will be in four languages.
The survey was sent to the Department of Education for its approval to be sent out, which she said she expects will happen in the next few days. People will have two weeks to fill it out.
A community open house also is planned for the end of the month, but no date or place has been set yet.