By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui Bureau
WAILUKU, Maui Having just moved into an old plantation home on Lanai, commercial artist Michael Carroll travelled to Maui Monday to do a little home-improvement shopping in Kahului.
He almost didnt make it back to Lanai Monday.
Carroll got stuck in a traffic jam for hours because of the fire that charred more than 700 acres of brush on the former cane land and steep terrain above Olowalu and Launiupoko.
The fire, which was contained yesterday but was still smoldering last night, burned up to the Honoapiilani Highway Monday morning, forcing authorities to close the road that connects West Maui to the rest of the island for more than seven hours.
The closing inconvenienced hundreds of tourists and residents stranded on both sides of the highway. The fire meant missed flights, broken appointments and lost business for merchants.
"I was very, very angry," said Carole Ameral, executive director of the West Maui Taxpayers Association, who arrived at Kahului Airport from San Francisco just after noon. Monday and didnt get home until 9 p.m. "We have a real serious problem here."
The Maui Marriott, like the other West Maui hotels, scrambled to deal with the situation, with many guest unable to leave Monday and many others prevented from arriving, including 50 who got stuck on the eastern side of the island.
John Limper, area marketing director for Marriott, said a sister property, the Renaissance Wailea Beach Resort, was able to take the extra guests. He said a dozen Marriott employees stayed Monday night because of difficulty returning to their Central Maui homes.
"It was just a big inconvenience for everybody," he said.
The Honoapiilani Highway closures are a chronic and increasing problem for Maui. The situation promises to get worse as the area develops. But dont expect any quick solutions.
While state Sen. Jan Buen, D-4th District (West Maui, Lanai, Molokai), last year was able to obtain $200,000 to finance part of a $1 million study of road alternatives, the matching federal money has yet to come through.
Buen last year chaired a task force of local, state and federal officials that had recommended the study. "I hate studies, because they take so darn long, but its a requirement," Buen said yesterday. "I really want to do something, but funding is so hard to come by."
In recent years the main route between Mauis top visitor destination and Kahului, site of the airport and the hospital, has been blocked not only by fires but by major auto accidents, flooding, washouts caused by high waves and collapsed utility poles.
There is a route around the north side of the island, but the road that runs through Kahakuloa is narrow, winding and in poor condition. During emergencies, Maui police limit traffic to a single lane of vehicles in one direction at a time, and there is a half-mile segment where only one car can squeeze by.
State highways officials have estimated it would cost at least $100 million to upgrade the Kahakuloa roadway to handle two-way traffic, and any improvement project would face opposition from Kahakuloa residents who dont want traffic congestion in the little town.
Meanwhile, Maui County has no plans to widen the 7-mile segment of the Kahakuloa Road that it controls, according to public works chief David Goode.
Buens task force considered a variety of alternatives, including setting up a ferry or heliport for emergency evacuations when the highway is blocked. Another residents committee is looking at alternatives as part of a comprehensive examination of West Mauis disaster preparedness.
As for the fire, officials say, they still dont know what caused it.
[back to top]