Early design plans were unveiled Wednesday for a concrete overpass that will ensure the safe crossing of four-lane Piʻilani Highway by students and others going to and from Kīhei’s new Kūlanihākoʻi High School.
But even with a “fairly aggressive” timeline, the overpass won’t be done until December 2025 at the earliest, and that’s only if funding is secured for the $16 million estimated construction cost, community members were told during a night meeting at the high school.
The plans show it will be built on the south side of the new roundabout, spanning 140-feet across the busy highway at a height of 20 feet. It will feature down lighting (so not to confuse birds) and a metal bar enclosure that enables people to be be able to see out but prevents anyone from falling or jumping off it. At each end, there will be ADA-compliant ramps and stairs.
“The idea was to create a bridge design that was truly very quiet and sedate, without too much decoration,” said architect Mark Tagawa, a principal at Honolulu-based G70 Design (the project’s architect, planner and civil engineer). “… We wanted the bridge to just recede into the landscape.”
An overpass — or underpass — was an original condition set in 2013 by the state Land Use Commission to change the zoning off 77 acres from agricultural land to urban.
But for years, the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation insisted a grade-separate crossing was not needed and did not include one in plans for the school entrance. Now, building one will be more costly — and the earliest completion date is more than two years away, according to Wednesday’s presentation.
The overpass is a joint project of the state Department of Education and state Department of Transportation. It was decided that DOT will be the state agency that will fund, own and operate the overpass. DOT also will select the general contractor and oversee the construction.
DOT Highways Deputy Director Robin Shishido said Hawai’i Gov. Josh Green’s office introduced a budget line item for the project in the 2023 legislative session, but it didn’t make it through the budget cycle.
While Shishido said “we’re still early in the process,” lawmakers and officials concede there could be funding challenges due to the massive need of public money on Maui for disaster recovery from the Aug. 8 wildfires.
State Rep. Terez Amato, who represents South Maui and attended the meeting, said she submitted a federal earmark request for the project in February through US Sen. Brian Schatz’ office. But if federal funding becomes available, it likely would delay the project 1 to 2 years to go through the federal environmental project process.
Without the state mandated grade-separated crossing, the new high school was allowed to open for the 2023-24 school year only after a deal was worked out with Green’s office. In July, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen granted a temporary certificate of occupancy certifying that the campus’ buildings are safe for use, but only with Green indemnifying the county “from liabilities that may arise from any items that are not in compliance with the Land Use Commission’s requirements.”
The temporary certificate of occupancy also was based on a temporary pedestrian safety plan that includes shuttles for students walking to and from school until the new pedestrian overpass is constructed. Students who live in the walk zone, within 1.5 miles from the school, have received waivers to ride school transportation.
Now, 152 freshmen and sophomores attend Kūlanihākoʻi High, with an additional 150 to 180 freshmen expected to be added each school year. School principal Halle Maxwell said she expects the school enrollment will eventually increase to just under 800 students when all four grades are attending.
It is about half of the 1,600 enrollment it was built for when attendance at elementary and intermediate schools in the 96753 zip code was much higher, but it also allows for growth in South Maui.
Maxwell said no students are allowed use the crosswalk across Piʻilani Highway that was included in the newly built, $16 million roundabout at the school entrance.
She said the students were told it was not to be mean: “The truth is for your safety, it’s not safe right now.”
“I come through the roundabout every single day and see people zoom through,” Maxwell said. “It’s a 50/50 shot whether cars are gonna keep going or not.”
The crosswalk with rapid flashing beacons, which the Department of Transportation touted as the reason an overpass or underpass was not needed, has not been used, with the entrances sort of blocked.
When the construction of the overpass begins, the crosswalk likely will be removed, said Ryan Char, principal and civil engineer with G70 Design.
G70 representatives said it would have been less expensive if the roundabout and overpass project were designed and built as a single project. It also would have lessened the time of disruption to motorists and people who live in the area.
When the overpass construction begins, it is expected to take six months, although some of that time will be for mobilizing equipment and materials. That is far less time than the original estimates of 1 1/2 to 3 years. The project includes an extra $291,000 for night work to reduce traffic backups on the most-used thoroughfare in Kīhei and to Wailea.
The design is currently at 30%. It is not known yet if there will be a center support column for the overpass.
“If there is a center column, there may be some curb work, but we really are trying to utilize the existing roundabout geometry, and not impact that geometry in any way,” Char said.
If the crosswalks come out, there also will be curb work done to try to discourage people from crossing the highway at grade instead of using the overpass.
There were five options identified for the pedestrian crossing, three overpasses and two underpasses at different locations. After community outreach and the completion of the 93-page Grade-Separated Pedestrian Crossing Alternative Study, the Department of Education selected option A, the overpass at Kūlanihākoʻi Street, based on usability, time to complete, safety, cost and disruption to traffic on Piʻilani Highway.
The presentation on Wednesday showed that a precast concrete grid structure would cost about $1.5 million less than going with a steel bridge, and also would be less costly to maintain.
With the Department of Transportation owning the overpass, it will be open 24/7, “which feels like a great decision for the community,” Char said.
If the Department of Education owned the overpass, there was a possibility it would have been closed during non school hours or events.
With ADA-compliant ramps — a switchback ramp on the residential side of the highway and a long ramp on the high school side — people in wheelchairs and with bikes can safely cross the highway.
“Then at the same time, if you don’t need a ramp, there are stairs provided so you can quickly get up and over,” Char said. “So we don’t want students feeling like it’s too long.”
Everyone agreed. The safety of the students was paramount.
The overpass project’s estimated timeline includes:
- Publishing a draft environmental assessment: December 2023
- A 30-day public comment period on the draft: January 2024
- Publishing of the final environmental assessment: February 2024
- Applying for construction permits: February 2024
- Obtaining state and county permits: December 2024
- Request for proposals for construction: December 2024
- Award general contractor: February 2025
- Construction notice to proceed and mobilization: May 2025
- Overpass completion: December 2025
- Land Use Commission condition acceptance: December 2025
- County of Maui condition acceptance: January 2026