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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 7:29 p.m., Saturday, June 2, 2007

Maui group simulates Superferry traffic jam

The Maui News

KAHULUI — Organizers of a traffic simulation believed they made a point Friday morning as traffic backed up on a short extension of Pu'unene Avenue to illustrate the effect of the arrival of the Hawaii Superferry.

"What we learned is there is a heck of a problem, as everyone figured it would be," said Ron Sturtz, a member of Maui Tomorrow Foundation, which was involved in organizing the event.

"If they had not delayed their launch, this would have happened in a month," Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow, told the Maui News.

The Superferry was scheduled to begin service in July, but that has been pushed back at least a month as the 340-foot-long catamaran goes through Coast Guard inspections in Alabama.

"We saw that dropping that many cars into one of Maui's most congested intersections at 9:30 each morning is simply crazy," said Greg Kaufman, president of the Pacific Whale Foundation, another organizer of the simulation.

More than 110 cars participated in the simulation that had cars staging at the end of Pu'unene Avenue, at Cary & Eddie's Hideaway restaurant and along Pu'unene Avenue near First Hawaiian Bank. The effort was designed to illustrate what would happen when vehicles come off the ferry and transit along the short Pu'unene segment to the Ka'ahumanu Avenue intersection.

Maui Tomorrow, the Kahului Harbor Users Association and Maui County are parties in a suit seeking to require an environmental impact statement on harbor improvements being installed for the Superferry .

The simulation was initiated at 9:30 a.m., the time the Superferry would arrive in Kahului, and ran for an hour to demonstrate the potential traffic jam that would occur while the ferry is unloading and loading passengers and vehicles.

On Friday, the major tie-up was on the short strip of Pu'unene Avenue from First Hawaiian Bank to the end of the road along Cary & Eddie's Hideaway. Vehicles disembarking from the Superferry would depart on the short road segment to the Ka'ahumanu Avenue intersection.

The simulation angered restaurant owner Eduardo "Eddie" Hernandez Rivera, who said organizers did not ask for permission to stage the cars in the Cary & Eddie's Hideaway lot. The organizers said they did ask for permission and received required permits for the demonstration.

"I haven't been pro-ferry or anti-ferry, but now I'm anti-anti-ferry," Hernandez Rivera said Friday afternoon.

He said those participating in the simulation were rude and confrontational as he tried to get them to leave his parking lot if they were not patronizing the restaurant.

If he recognized any of the participants as his customers, he was happy to let them use the parking lot, he said.

"I've never seen them before," he said.

Hernandez Rivera said he doesn't foresee any problems with Superferry traffic as he doesn't open his doors until 11 a.m., the time the Superferry is scheduled to leave the harbor.

His neighbor, First Hawaiian Bank, hired two off-duty police officers to help its customers enter and exit the bank during the simulation.

"The traffic was definitely heavier than your typical Friday morning," said Mitchell Nishimoto, senior vice president and Maui region manager for the bank.

But he said the traffic was manageable with the two off-duty officers to assist.

"Our customers got in and out OK," he said.

The bank is taking a "wait and see approach" on how to handle increased traffic on when the Superferry is in operation, he said.

"It's really hard to say whether it was a true or accurate portrayal of what the traffic will be like," Nishimoto said of the demonstration Friday.

The simulation was an inconvenience to bank customers, with customers saying they will think twice about the effects of the Superferry on the roadway to the bank.

"It's really going to be crazy," said bank customer Robin Prais of Pukalani.

Prais said she already felt that there is not adequate infrastructure to accommodate the Superferry and its passengers arriving and leaving Kahului Harbor. The Superferry has a capacity of 900 passengers and more than 200 passenger vehicles and large trucks and vans.

She said she might adjust her schedule to avoid the bank when the Superferry is in the harbor.

John Obrero of Kahului said traffic was "very high" as he arrived at the bank when the simulation was going on. He said he thought to himself, "How can I get inside the bank?"

He said he saw a benefit in the Superferry to be able to take his car to the other islands for visits. But, he said, "More traffic, I guess not."

Sturtz called the simulation a "mutually educational endeavor."

But he said the two police officers controlling traffic to the bank parking lot pushed the traffic tie-up farther back on Pu'unene and away from the Pu'unene-Ka'ahumanu Avenue intersection.

"How is this a simulation if they are controlling traffic here? What's going to happen if they are not here?" he said.

Still, Sturtz said organizers achieved one of their goals of showing the effects of a large number of cars being off-loaded from the Superferry.

"The bottom line is it was supposed to last an hour," he said.

An hour and fifteen minutes after the start of the simulation, there were still 20 to 30 cars waiting to get out to the intersection, he said.

Organizers initially planned to have cars leave the Pu'unene section, circle around Kahului then return to the Pu'unene Avenue segment to simulate vehicles waiting to get to the Superferry boarding site.

But congestion around the bank area was too heavy, and the plan was revised to just simulate disembarking traffic.

Police stopped traffic on Ka'ahumanu Avenue and the northbound lanes of Pu'unene to allow all of the cars out of the Pu'unene segment when the simulation went beyond its one-hour time limit. Sturtz said that led to a backup on Pu'unene and Ka'ahumanu avenues.

"It was telling to all of us there is a problem here and we have to deal with it," he said.

Derek Barona of Kula, who participated in the simulation with his white van, said he waited about half an hour to leave Pu'unene from the vicinity of First Hawaiian Bank, heading to Hana Highway.

"It was kind of frustrating," he said, saying drivers disembarking the Superferry could experience the same thing.

Maui police Capt. Charles Hirata, an acting assistant chief observing the simulation with other officers, said he did not see any problems on Pu'unene or Ka'ahumanu avenues. But he noted the congestion on the short section of Pu'unene Avenue at the entrance and exit of the bank.

Hirata said the tie-up could be attributed to multiple factors, including the participants in the simulation obstructing the road, and because Friday was the first day of the month and a payday when the bank would be extra busy.

He added that cars involved in the simulation were not turning right onto Ka'ahumanu, which would accurately duplicate what could happen with traffic coming off the Superferry.

While police do not have a position on the Superferry, Hirata suggested Superferry officials may have to hire off-duty police to handle traffic and the traffic signal lights at the Puunene-Kaahumanu intersection may need to be adjusted.

Kaufman said only about three Superferry cars were able to get through the traffic signal at the intersection with each signal cycle.

One of the participants, Wailuku resident Charles Kaili III, said he was neither for nor against the Superferry's arrival but he did want to know more about its effects.

"I like see, will it be an impact? Do we need an EIS? I think there's a need," he said.

Laurie Horswill, another participant, said she saw some flaws with the simulation.

"Not everyone will come at the same time" as occurred in the demonstration Friday, she said.

"I plan to use the Superferry. I want to see what I need to go through to get to the Superferry," she said.

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.