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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 13, 2001

Windward residents call new traffic signs 'too big'

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

KANE'OHE — Three years after reducing the size of overhead traffic signs on Kahekili Highway and other nearby roadways in response to protests from Windward residents, the state has erected two more that soar 40 feet high and span three lanes of traffic.

A sturdy frame supports large signs over Kahekili Highway near the intersection with Likelike Highway. Windward drivers and the state disagree on whether it's all necessary.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

The new signs and support structures, which Honolulu-bound motorists saw for the first time this week, block the view of the Ko'olau Mountains, critics say.

"There seems to be a concerted effort to march on with the uglyfication of the Windward side," said Richard Vermeesch, a Kahalu'u Neighborhood Board member. "It just saddens me to see what's going on, on the Windward side. In the last week we've lost a 50-year-old tree and gained this tubular monstrosity."

Kailua and Kane'ohe residents raised complaints in 1997 over a state plan to install overhead signs on Kalaniana'ole, Kamehameha, Kahekili and Likelike highways and the H-3 Freeway, spanning each roadway. The signs would have blocked scenic views and were, for the most part, larger than necessary, residents said.

Although some of the large signs were later installed, the state agreed in 1998 to reduce the size of others and redesign the larger ones so they were not solid structures blocking views.

The signs erected this week are as large as those nearby on the Likelike — or even larger — and they block mountain views, residents said.

But the Department of Transportation said the signs and structure are a result of community input from three years ago when the controversy first erupted.

DOT Director Brian Minaai said the new signs are smaller than the ones they replaced, but he couldn't say by how much.

"We didn't make the decision on this on our own," Minaai said. "We went through a very extensive collaborative effort with the community knowing that there would be some reaction to the massiveness of the signs."

The huge structure is necessary to withstand hurricanes and high winds. It also must meet federal standards, he said.

"The signs can become sails, given the right wind conditions, so all of that had to be balanced," Minaai said.

He also said that because of costs and aesthetics, the department wouldn't advocate large signs where they weren't needed.

Bill Cunningham, who attended community meetings a few years ago as a Kane'ohe Neighborhood Board representative, said he doesn't remember agreeing to the structure for Kahekili Highway.

"We didn't agree to anything like that," he said, adding that the state can't seem to find money to landscape the highway but it "always seems to have money to put up these huge signs."

Phillip Mowrey, a Kane'ohe Neighborhood Board member, said he e-mailed Gov. Ben Cayetano to complain when he first saw the mounting structure Tuesday night.

"His Department of Transportation has given the people on the Windward side a hard slap in the face," Mowrey said.

The governor's office referred calls on the issue to the department.

The size of the signs and structure are perfect on a freeway where cars are traveling 75 mph, said Kane'ohe Outdoor Circle member Rom Duran. But on Kahekili, the speed limit is 35 mph. Besides, Duran said, the state promised no more signs.

"And so you just trust them," he said. "What a mistake."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.