All the right factors need to be in place for Hawaii County to successfully convert Alii Drive to one-way traffic in the downtown area, community members and business stakeholders told officials Wednesday in North Kona.
Among those are improving substandard mauka-makai roads, like Sarona Road and Likana Lane; providing ample public parking and signage; ensuring evacuation and alternate routes remain adequate; and conducting an array of studies such as what impact one-way traffic might have on businesses and overall traffic congestion in the area.
“If we do it right it could be a great idea,” said Vivian Landrum, president and CEO of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, who asked the county look at carefully the impact one-way traffic has on business exposure. “And, if we do it right, it can succeed.”
Fanny Au Hoy, who said she was representing Hulihee Palace on Alii Drive, stressed that twice already converting Alii Drive to one-way traffic flow has failed because of inadequate planning.
“There wasn’t enough study put into it,” said Au Hoy about attempts in the early 2000s and 1970s to render Alii Drive one-way. “This time we’ve got to give it a chance and work hard.”
Hawaii County officials are considering converting Alii Drive to one-way traffic in downtown Kailua-Kona. The proposal calls for limiting traffic to one direction between Palani and Hualalai roads or Hualalai and Walua roads. Whether traffic will flow south- or north-bound remains on the table, according to the Department of Public Works.
About 20 people came out for the department’s first focus group on the proposed change to Alii Drive providing the county with information, suggestions and ideas. The Department of Public Works will use the information to determine what to do about the Alii Drive area in downtown Kailua-Kona, said Public Works Director Warren Lee.
The intent behind the project, which could happen within the next five years, is to improve traffic circulation and pedestrian and bicyclist facilities in the Kailua Village area, Lee said.
The project is included in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan, which prioritizes projects to receive federal funding that would cover 80 percent of the project’s cost.
The traffic flow conversion would likely take place once Nani Kailua Drive is constructed between Kuakini Highway and Walua Road, he said.
The proposal also assumes Kuakini Highway would already be widened to four lanes between the proposed intersection of Nani Kailua Drive and Kuakini Highway and Hualalai Road.
The concept for one-way traffic grew after the release last year of a draft Environmental Assessment for improvements for pedestrian access along Oneo Bay determined extending Alii Drive makai, into the bay, would be too major of an effort and could affect archaeological sites, Lee said. Whether the EA would simply need revision for the current project or a completely new EA would have to be completed remains unclear.
“We need to really look at this as part of a larger plan and how it ties into the larger community,” said Kailua Village Improvement District Executive Director Debbie Baker. “We need to research any of the impacts to the community before moving forward.”
In mid-August 2004, the county initiated a 90-day pilot program that restricted Alii Drive to one southbound lane between Hualalai and Palani roads for three hours. The pilot ended about a month later because of traffic congestion and other issues.
The county also tried in the early 1970s, possibly 1971-72, to convert Alii Drive to one southbound lane between Palani and Hualalai roads, said longtime resident Mike Beatty, who noted at the time there were fewer residents and no signalized intersections.
“It was very inconvenient for us working in the village because the one way was always going the wrong way,” said Beatty about the 1970s attempt. “It was really bad.”