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Puna roundabouts on hold: DOT cites improved traffic safety along Highway 130

A pair of roundabouts on Highway 130 have improved the roadway enough that plans to build another two roundabouts have been shelved.

In 2020, state legislators allocated $30 million in capital improvements funds for road improvements to Keaau-Pahoa Road, or Highway 130. Among those planned improvements were roundabouts that would be built at the highway’s intersection with both Makuu Drive and Orchidland Drive.

Later in 2020, the project faced delays because of impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The project, said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige at the time, was to be funded by a rental car surcharge, but the pandemic limited the amount of funds actually collected.

Now, however, plans for the roundabouts have been suspended.

“We’re deferring those projects right now,” Kunishige said Monday. “We’re going to keep an eye on crash and speed data for the highway over the next three years, but if the data stays good, then (the roundabouts) won’t be necessary.”

The planned roundabouts were intended to reduce crashes along the Highway 130 corridor, Kunishige said. But since the installation of the two roundabouts on the highway — one installed in Pahoa in 2016, the other in Ainaloa in 2020 — the rate of traffic crashes at the Makuu and Orchidland intersections has declined.

According to DOT data, there were nine major crashes at the Highway 130-Makuu Drive intersection in 2016, and 11 in 2017. But then the number of crashes dropped substantially, with four in 2018 and five in both 2019 and 2020. So far, there have been no major crashes at that intersection this year.

The pattern is similar for the Highway 130-Orchidland Drive intersection: five crashes in 2016, six in 2017, then two crashes in both 2018 and 2019, three in 2020, and only one this year.

Kunishige credited the Pahoa and Ainaloa roundabouts for reducing crashes, and said that as long as the crash data stays low — the threshold is nine major crashes within three years — the deferred roundabouts will be dropped entirely.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said the improved crash data is gratifying, but added that residents in the area still need more routes to get in and out of their communities.

“The state can be leaning on that kind of data if they want, but I welcome them to ride along with us on our commutes one of these days,” Kierkiewicz said.

Kierkiewicz said there is “no better time than right now” to get funding for alternative access routes to Puna, with the federal government awarding infrastructure grants for projects across the country.

“The traffic is a real thing, and it’s terrible, and it was like that before COVID,” Kierkiewicz said. “Kids are going to school again, people are going back to work. Maybe you could get from Pahoa to Keaau in 20 minutes during the pandemic, but not anymore.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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