Saturday, January 6, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, January 6, 2001

Return of Pali Highway streetlights not favored by all

The Kailua side of the Pali Highway has been in the dark since the streetlights went out in August.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The streetlights on the Kailua side of the Pali Highway that have been dark since August may be repaired by the end of the month. But while they’ve been out, the debate over whether lights are needed along the scenic drive has resurfaced.

"The unlighted portion of the Pali Highway on the Kailua side approaching the tunnels is a poignant reminder of the past," wrote Sylvia W. Baldwin in a letter to the editor that appeared in The Advertiser last month.

But to those who say the lights shouldn’t be repaired so they can enjoy panoramic, nighttime views of Windward Oahu coming out of the Pali tunnel, the state and others respond that it’s an issue of safety.

The lights are there for safety and liability reasons, said Kailua Neighborhood Board chairwoman Faith Evans. The downhill and winding route, particularly the hairpin turn about a mile down from the Pali tunnel, makes them a necessity, she said.

"I think you should keep your eyes on the road, and not the view," said Evans, whose neighborhood board sent a letter to the state Department of Transportation in September requesting the temporary lights that now illuminate the road.

"Its downhill and there are many curves; very few people go (the) 35 mph (speed limit) there," Evans said. The lights help drivers spot the emergency brake stops along the way, as well as illuminate stranded motorists and emergency phones, she said.

"We’ve driven that road for 40 years, and we don’t feel unsafe," said Sylvia Baldwin, 72, a Kailua resident since 1959. "When it rains, the reflection of the street lights on the roadway hinders visibility. I recognize that I’m a small, vocal minority, but I feel our island’s roads are slowly turning into a Mainland-type design," she said.

Repairs delayed

Transportation crews next week will attempt repairs that have been delayed since August when a transformer that powers the lights blew out.

State transportation officials ordered a new transformer last fall, but discovered it was the wrong voltage.

"We then tried the new transformer before Christmas, but something short-circuited the high-voltage line," said Kelly Sato, a maintenance engineer with the state Department of Transportation’s Highways Division. "Now we have to inspect the line on Monday to see if it is still usable."

If the line is salvageable, the Pali lights could be up and running by the end of the month, Sato said. If not, the state has to order a new power line from the Mainland.

"The lighting system is old, which makes it hard to find certain parts here," Sato said.

One Honolulu-bound lane near the Pali tunnels will be closed from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday during the line inspection.

"Residents may be familiar with driving the Pali, but the lights are there for those who don’t travel it regularly," Sato said.

Not a new issue

Lights along the Pali Highway have been debated before. When the state placed lights on the Nuuanu side of the Pali Highway in 1996, transportation officials received similar complaints from some drivers who said the lights marred the landscape and blocked their view of the stars at night.

A similar issue occurred in 1997 when the state began installing lights along Kameha-

meha Highway between Wahiawa and Waialua on the way to the North Shore. The North Shore community, saying the utility poles would have marred the scenic drive, forced the department to cancel a $525,000 project to light a 6.5-mile stretch of the highway. But others told the department they wanted the lights to help night drivers better.

Baldwin and others believe the gradual installation of lights along the Pali and Likelike highways ruined the scenic drive.

"Yes, there will be accidents if you drive unsafely and take those curves at 65 mph. You still need to drive appropriately to the surrounding landscape," Baldwin said. "But we were just asking for one small concession to those who relish the feel of driving through the country."

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