An illegal U-turn on Queen Kaahumanu Highway Saturday morning spurred a two-car crash in front the Kohanaiki Shores development just yards from where community members were taking part in a sign waving.
None of the people participating in the protest seeking to preserve public vehicular access to the southern portion of Kohanaiki, also known as Pine Trees surf spot, were injured by the crash that occurred about 10:45 a.m. Organizer Janice Palma-Glennie called off the sign waving shortly thereafter for safety reasons.
No serious injuries were reported by the three occupants of the vehicles and none were transported to the hospital by Hawaii Fire Department personnel. Queen Kaahumanu Highway did not close completely, however, Hawaii Police Department officers closed the thoroughfare intermittently to allow emergency personnel to work.
The crash involved a northbound silver Saturn Ion sedan — driven by a man and with two women in the backseat — that attempted to pull a sharp U-turn in the middle of Queen Kaahumanu Highway in front of the Kohanaiki Shores LLC development. A maroon Mazda B4000 pickup truck, driven by a man, that was not too far behind the Saturn was unable to stop and struck the Saturn, “T-boning” it on the driver’s side.
A West Hawaii Today reporter and freelance photographer were on scene covering the protest when the crash occurred. All the participants were primarily off the road at the time of the crash.
The posted speed limit in the area is 45 mph. Officers responding to the crash cited the man driving the Saturn for at least the U-turn infraction.
The officers said the intersection sees its fair share of accidents and near-misses because drivers attempt U-turns or other moves to access the Kohanaiki beach access road. That’s because northbound traffic cannot make a left turn to access the road, but rather drivers are expected to travel to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority’s access road to turn around and head back south.
The Kohanaiki beach access road is limited to a right-turn-in-right-turn-out configuration; left turns from the access road are prohibited. Delineator poles further signify left turns are not allowed across the double-yellow lines; however, motorists continue to do so.
“It’s always a dangerous spot,” said Alastair Glennie, a participant in the protest, who witnessed the crash. “We’re just lucky no one was killed.”
Saturday’s incident isn’t the first time the intersection and issues of safety there have come to light in the Kona community.
In August 2009, concerns about illegal U-turns at the intersection following the closure of a NELHA jeep trail prompted Sen. Josh Green (D-Kona, Ka‘u) to contact the state Department of Transportation about creating a left-turn lane.
Green, when contacted Saturday, said that nothing had come of the request. He said that the department was “heavily dug in” to the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project and didn’t want to alter the highway traffic configuration.
“I will take the concerns to the director of the Department of Transportation,” he said. “I’ll take it immediately to the DOT so that we can revisit the issue.”
Green also added that with the widening of Queen Kaahumanu Highway and the construction of a frontage road that would prohibit left turns on and off the highway expected to take at least a couple more years, something needs to be done in the interim.
“We can’t afford to have accidents there,” he said. “I always am very concerned about it. This will reignite our pleas to the Department of Transportation.”