(BIVN) – State officials said they were sorry for the morning contraflow restriping that took place on Highway 130 in early August that snarled traffic in Puna, as the Hawaiʻi County Council discussed what went wrong during a recent meeting in Hilo.
“If you live in Puna, a few weeks ago you experienced Carmageddon,” said Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz at the September 3 meeting of the Governmental Relations and Economic Development Committee. “We were just stuck, and I was very concerned because I had to get to work. I had kids I needed to get to school. I started to think about emergency personnel, the ambulances that were on the road, the disabled population that has a routine and needs to get to certain places and once their day is out of whack, there’s panic.”
“First and foremost, I have to apologize to the public,” said DOT Highways Division administrator Ed Sniffen. “For that August 8 time frame, in general, whenever we do a project there’s always a week’s time frame that we provide the public notification of lane closures. For that one, it slipped, and that’s from my perspective – from my side. So, our staff is doing what they’re supposed to. We didn’t get the messaging out to the public, not just to you, but to everybody.”
“When we started progressing the work on Highway 130 … to do the contraflow work, the last piece of that work is supposed to be to close that free right on Shower Drive,” Sniffen added. “That was the first thing we did. I don’t know where we broke down in our… communications or our processes, but it broke down. So, after we we hit that snag on the first day, we corrected it. We opened it back up again. Throughout the rest of the timeframe that we’re doing the work, the traffic was much better. Then we closed it off at the end to make sure that we and everybody got back the improvements before we took away.”
A contributing factor to the situation may have been the recent departure of Don Smith, the Hawaii Island district engineer for DOT and resident of Puna, who Sniffen says has moved to Texas.
“I do realize that we lost Don,” said councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder. “I do have to say the timing for moving that that right turn lane from Shower onto the highway the first week of school was probably one of the worst things that could have been done, so I appreciate your apology. I also hope that we learned a lot from that.”
The following day, the Hawaiʻi DOT issued this information over social media:
The Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) announces adjustments to the AM northbound contraflow on Keaau Pahoa Road (Route 130) between Shower Drive and Kaloli Drive.
The contraflow operates between 5:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays and began on Monday, August 26, 2019.
Travel time measurements and vehicle counts from the first week of operations showed an average time savings of 9 minutes and 28 seconds and an approximate 121-percent increase in the number of vehicles travelling through Keaau Pahoa Road within the contraflow limits. The travel time measurement and vehicle count data can be seen at: KPR Travel Time Comparison and KPR Traffic Count Comparisons.
These operational improvements to Keaau Pahoa Road were accompanied by a 55-percent reduction in the number of vehicles that were able to make the right-hand turn from Shower Drive onto northbound Keaau Pahoa Road (comparison can be seen here). HDOT crews adjusted the contraflow coning through the Pohaku/Shower Drive intersection to clearly show those turning left from Pohaku Drive that they should be turning into the left lane on Keaau Pahoa Road northbound.
While this adjustment allows for a more efficient right turn from Shower Drive when the signal is green, HDOT crews had concerns regarding the sight distance for the Shower Drive right-turn onto Keaau Pahoa Road on the red phase of the light. Crews will continue to monitor to see if there are changes that can be made or if the sight distance requires a “No turn no red” restriction. HDOT will continue to update the community if this change is necessary for safety.
During the first week of operations, HDOT crews placed concrete barriers along the widened shoulder of Keaau Pahoa Road in areas where the shoulder dropped off steeply to prevent cars from falling off at these spots. After additional study, it was determined that the safer option would be removal of the barriers and installation of delineators to make these areas more visible and to warn motorists of the drop off conditions.
Work to remove the barriers and install the delineators will take place nightly Thursday, Sept. 5, and Friday, Sept. 6, between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. This work will be done within roving single lane closures on Keaau Pahoa Road between Shower Drive and Kaloli Drive.