South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee volunteers serve the community
WAIMEA — The South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee’s motto is, “Drive safely, drive defensively!”
Run by volunteers, the advisory group’s monthly meetings are an open forum for residents from all communities in the district, as well as elected officials, County employees, police staff, representatives from the State Department of Transportation, and the County Department of Public Works’ traffic and highway maintenance divisions.
SKTSC’s main purpose is to educate the public, and comment on state and County planning and design proposals for major projects that can impact roads and traffic in South Kohala. Although traffic safety committees have existed in all nine Big Island districts in the past, currently the South Kohala branch is one of the remaining few.
Waimea resident James Hustace took over as SKTSC chairman late last summer after serving on the committee for several years.
“Because we’re a volunteer group, we follow a lot of projects going on and serve as a hub that the County and state can connect with. We then disseminate the information to the community,” he said. “People also come to us with questions and projects they wish would be viewed.”
To further connect with communities and allow the committee to grow, SKTSC members are creating a priority list for the district currently.
“This should include projects both large and small that each community in our district deems important so we can then present them in a unified voice to our representatives and officials,” Hustace said. “I welcome residents to connect with me or attend our monthly meetings to provide their input on this matter.”
A survey will be sent to residents this spring for ideas. Hustace also plans to attend community meetings in Waikoloa Village, Puako, Kawaihae and Waimea.
One of this year’s main focuses will be the extension road project aimed to connect Mamalahoa Highway and Queen Kaahumanu Highway south of Waikoloa.
“The Draft Environmental Assessment will be available for public review in February,” Hustace said. “It pertains to the next phase of Saddle Road, also known as Daniel K. Inouye Highway. It would be a separate road that would go straight down the mountain slope. The Assessment Plan will show us how they would potentially design it with different options. We hope this will be a part of our February public meeting.”
A Waimea mini bypass is another project in the works. Money has been budgeted from the state for the design and plan, but nothing has been set aside for building it. Public hearings will begin this spring.
“It would be from just outside of town possibly near the Waimea airport and skirt a route that would eventually connect to Kawaihae Road around Mahua Street, a wide loop around town,” Hustace said. “This is what the public reviews and hearings will bring light to.”
The County of Hawaii Department of Public Works’ highways division resumed a project on Mamalahoa Highway between Iona Ct. and Mana Rd. yesterday that will continue through Feb. 3.
“As a committee, we pushed for this. Both lanes are showing major wear and failing of the subsurface. This has caused vehicles to either ride the shoulder or even ride the center line of the highway. It has become a major traffic safety issue, and even Waimea police officers have been sending in complaints to the County,” Hustace said. “This County effort will widen shoulders and re-pave part of it, allowing pedestrians and bicyclists a safer path.”
A high priority in the state is the intersection at Queen Kaahumanu Hwy. and Kawaihae Rd.
“The only information I have at this time is that the necessary land to improve this intersection has been acquired,” Hustace said.
Traffic at the intersection has worsened recently.
“If you go down there at 4 p.m. in the afternoon, cars back up as far as Hapuna Beach,” he said. “I think it’s because of the lack of a right turn lane going up Kawaihae Road. I’ve gotten a lot of people emailing me about the safety issues with that intersection and the amount of vehicles passing through that area. That could be a large project we see happening this year but I’m not sure how fast the state will act on it.”
SKTSC’s biggest goal this year is to create a friendly relationship with Department of Transportation and the County so both can share information readily.
The next SKTSC committee meeting with be on Feb. 14 at the Waimea Civic Center Conference Room starting at 4 p.m.