Monday, February 5, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, February 5, 2001

Cure for Maui traffic is beyond more roads

Timothy Hurley, The Advertiser’s Maui County Bureau chief, recently reported on what has emerged as the Valley Isle’s No. 1 growth issue: traffic.

A surge of tourism and residential growth has led to near-gridlock on much of Maui’s early statehood-era road system. There has been a 20 percent growth in the number of cars on the road in just the past 10 years.

The congestion — and the frustration it brings to visitors and residents alike — has put state and county planners into high gear. There is talk of doing "whatever it takes" to speed up road widening and new road construction.

The sense of urgency is understandable. But Maui should treat this not just as a problem, but as an opportunity. The issue is not, and must not be, defined simply as a problem of not enough roads.

Maui will never pave its way out of its traffic woes. The current crunch should be a signal for different thinking, new solutions that will turn Maui forever away from the grow-and-groan cycle.

This includes a fresh look at Maui’s ultimate carrying capacity, an idea being promoted by Councilwoman Jo Anne Johnson. Rather than simply watch growth then futilely react to it, the idea behind carrying capacity is to conclude how much you can grow and then plan toward it.

It could also include new thinking about how tourists, especially, get around on Maui. They will never give up the freedom of renting their own convertible, but they do not have to use it for every trip.

Mass transit, either public or private, could become an alternative for some trips that all visitors typically make. Already, there is talk about restricting private vehicles going up to view the Haleakala sunrise.

Simply put, more roads are not the only answer to traffic congestion.

And besides, there is nothing inevitable about ever-growing numbers of cars. Maui need look no further than supposedly more congested Oahu. Over the past nine years or so, there has been a substantial decline (probably in excess of 10,000) in the number of cars registered on Oahu. And this, while the amount of available roadway has increased with the opening of the H3 freeway and other improvements.

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