Maui News

Draft environmental assessment ready for Kūlanihāko‘i High School overpass project

Listen to this Article
4 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

An artist’s rendition shows the design of a pedestrian overpass across Piʻilani Highway. A draft environmental assessment has been completed for the project located at the entrance to the new Kūlanihākoʻi High School in Kīhei. Credit: G70 Design

The Hawai‘i Department of Education published a draft environmental assessment Friday, reaching a project review milestone and paving the way for a planned $16 million pedestrian overpass spanning Pi‘ilani Highway.

The department also reported an anticipated finding of no significant environmental impacts from the project to allow safe pedestrian crossings over the highway and a traffic roundabout in Kīhei. The four-lane highway cuts off the new Kūlanihākoʻi High School from student and staff homes on the makai side of the roadway. The project area is about 30,000 square feet.

For safety reasons, students are not allowed to use the crosswalk to cross Piʻilani Highway. So, students are either bussed in or dropped off and picked up.

A map shows the 30,000-square-foot project site for the Kūlanihākoʻi overpass to span Piilani Highway in Kīhei. PC: Screen grab from draft EA posted online.

The environmental assessment, prepared by consultant G70, reports that four project alternatives were considered: an underpass near Kūlanihākoʻi Street, an overpass near Waipuʻilani Gulch, an underpass at Waipuʻilani Gulch highway bridge and an overpass near Waipuʻilani Road.

The draft environmental assessment examined four alternatives to the proposed overpass project plan. PC: Screen grab from draft EA posted online.

After weighing other options, the preferred alternative and proposed action is construction of an overpass at Kūlanihākoʻi because of a number of factors, including its usability, schedule and cost.

“This option is in a location that has the shortest travel distance for the greatest number of students living within the 1.5-mile radius of the school who would not be eligible for bus service to campus,” the draft EA says. “Usability of a grade-separated crossing by students was one of the most important criteria during the HIDOE community outreach for their alternatives analysis study.”

The preferred alternative received the most support from attendees at the Kīhei High School Grade-Separated Pedestrian Crossing Alternatives Study open house, the draft assessment says.

The project has two 280-feet-long, 10-foot-wide ramps that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ramps are reached via two 7-foot-wide stairways.

An artistʻs rendition of the pedestrian overpass, which will go 140 feet across Piʻilani Highway at a height of 20 feet. It will be enclosed to prevent jumping or falling off the overpass. The project’s transparent design is aimed at helping it blend in with the environment. Credit: G70 Design

The overpass bridge that will span the highway is designed as 140 feet long by 10 feet wide. Contractors plan to use prefabricated concrete to construct the bridge, which will be enclosed to prevent people from jumping or falling off of the overpass.

Visually, the project is being designed to blend in with South Maui’s environment, and “maintain a safe and open view shed for vehicles traveling along Piʻilani Highway,” the environmental assessment says.

“When viewed from Piʻilani Highway or the adjacent sidewalks, the overpass may partially obstruct views mauka; however, these will be momentary when traveling,” it says. “Additionally, when using the overpass, the elevation gain will provide a new vantage point for viewing Upcountry scenic open space.”

All of arid South Maui is considered a wildfire hazard risk, so the project’s landscaping will be designed to have “low fuel loading and ignition” features, according to the assessment. The overpass itself will be built of nonflammable materials, including steel and concrete. Nearby roadway maintenance should cut back easily burned dry vegetation. The overpass also would be another escape route for students and staff members if the school were threatened by a wildfire mauka of the campus.


An overpass — or underpass — was an original condition set in 2013 by the state Land Use Commission to change the zoning of 77 acres from agricultural to urban for the new high school in Kīhei.

Kīhei’s new Kūlanihākoʻi High School has more than 150 freshmen and sophomores attending classes, with 150 to 180 freshmen expected to be added each school year. Eventually, the school’s enrollment is projected to rise to just under 800 students when the school has all of its 9th- through 12th-grade classes.

The school officially opened in August after the state agreed to indemnify Maui County, and the county issued a temporary certificate of occupancy for the $245 million campus. It was not immediately known Friday whether the state has budgeted $16 million for construction of the overpass.

The Department of Education is continuing work on the project’s design and development. However, the environmental assessment says that discussions between the Hawaiʻi departments of Education and Transportation have led to a decision to have the Transportation Department take over construction and operation of the overpass. Hours of operation will not be limited to school days and times only.

The project still needs a final environmental assessment and an official finding of no significant environmental impact. Construction of the overpass is expected to be completed no earlier than the end of 2025.

A map in the Kūlanihākoʻi overpass bridge draft environmental assessment shows the project’s location in Kīhei. PC: Screen grab from draft EA posted online.
Brian Perry
Brian Perry worked as a staff writer and editor at The Maui News from 1990 to 2018. Before that, he was a reporter at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. From 2019 to 2022, he was director of communications in the Office of the Mayor.
Read Full Bio

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Maui Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments