Big Isle residents give views on driving, safety
by Karen Welsh
Stephens Media Group
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
The state Highway Safety Office has the results of its 2005 phone survey of Hawaii residents conducted by SMS Research of Honolulu.
Gordon Hong, highway safety manager for the state Department of Transportation, said 200 residents from each county in Hawaii are polled every three years to ascertain the effectiveness of a variety of safety issues, including the Click it or Ticket seat belt program and Walk Wise Hawaii.
"We want to see what people say about the programs," he said. "We want to feel like we're heading in the right direction. It also gives us more information and ammunition to go after certain problem areas or to gain stiffer penalties."
Overall, Hong said his office is pleased with the results. He said pedestrian safety and seat belt warnings are being heeded by the public.
For that matter, Hong said, Hawaii is No. 1 in seat belt use in the nation. He said this is reflected in fewer fatalities.
In 2005, 70 people in motor vehicles were killed statewide, down from 83 in 2004. He said this figure does not include fatalities from motorcycle or moped accidents or pedestrians struck while walking on roadways.
"In my eyes, because of restraint use in passenger vehicles, we saw a lessening of people dying in cars," Hong said. "We like to think that more lives were saved because of using seat belts and there are so many people walking around because they wore their seat belts. The people on the Big Island happen to be wearing their seat belts at a higher clip than any other island."
Other results from the survey of Big Island residents:
- More than 90 percent wear their seat belts when driving or sitting in the front passenger seat.
- At least 90 percent know of the Click-It or Ticket program, up from 83 percent in the last study.
- At least 20 percent of those surveyed have been in a severe accident and about 28 percent know someone killed in a traffic accident.
- About 88 percent agreed there are risks to driving 20 mph over the speed limit, even though 40 percent of those surveyed admitted driving at those speeds.
- Almost 75 percent want cell phones banned for drivers, slightly up from findings from Oahu, Kauai and Maui counties.
- At least 70 percent favor a law to keep passengers 18 years and younger from riding in the back of pickup trucks.
- Nine out of 10 support increased penalties for drivers arrested with blood alcohol levels at .15 and higher.
- About 75 percent support a helmet law for motorcycle riders with less than five years of experience, slightly lower than findings from Oahu, Kauai and Maui counties.
- More than 90 percent of respondents believe penalties should be increased for drivers caught going 85 to 90 mph.
- More than half of the people supported laws making it mandatory for children 12 and younger to sit in the back seat and 62 percent favored a law requiring children age 4 to 8 to use a booster seat.
- Half of the respondents were able to recall past highway safety campaigns.
Police issue high number of seat belt citations
by Betsy Tranquilli
West Hawaii Today
Friday, April 21, 2006 8:56 AM HST
Kona police wrote nearly 250 seat belt citations in March, in part to boost the county's seat belt enforcement statistics in anticipation of next month's national "Click It or Ticket" campaign.
The seat belt emphasis also came during a month the police were without grant money for DUI checkpoints.
Sgt. Dexter Veriato of the Traffic Enforcement Unit said that Kona officers' frequent DUI checkpoints in early 2006 have resulted in the department running through a year's worth of grant money in just six months, leaving the department to seek out more grant dollars so other districts can continue DUI enforcement.
"With the '52-12' campaign, we're supposed to be able to do one to two DUI roadblocks every week. But in Kona, they were doing three, four, five, even six times a week," Veriato said.
While Veriato said this is ultimately a good thing, considering there seems to be "an endless supply of impaired drivers in West Hawaii," Kona patrol's enthusiasm for DUI checkpoints has depleted the island's grant money and limited enforcement elsewhere.
Indeed, Kona's DUI arrest totals for the year dwarf all other districts. Kona's 177 DUI arrests this year is more than all other districts combined, accounting for 53 percent of the total DUI arrests on the island.
Meanwhile, the county's approximately $17,000 annual seat belt enforcement grant from the federal government was going largely untouched, particularly in West Hawaii. The county fell to third out of the state's four counties last year for seat belt usage -- a disappointment for the department in a state that prides itself on having the second-highest usage rates in the nation.
After a strong push for seat belt enforcement in 2004, when the county issued 1,194 citations islandwide, last year the department only issued 511 seat belt citations, with just 48 coming out of Kona. The department is determined once again to place renewed emphasis on seat belt enforcement and has already issued 719 citations islandwide through March, with more stringent enforcement expected as the national campaign officially begins on May 15.
Without DUI enforcement grant money available last month, Kona police instead picked up overtime collecting 235 seat belt citations, accounting for 75 percent of the total seat belt citations issued across the island. The next closest district was South Kohala, which issued just 11 citations in March. Each citation costs the driver $92, with the money going to the state, not the county or the police department.
Meanwhile, some residents wonder why officers are so focused on seat belt use when other crimes, particularly property crimes like assault, theft and burglary, are on the rise while the department struggles with severely depleted manpower.
"Since we have a shortage of police, why are you taking them away from catching real criminals, on and off the highways, who are physically endangering many of us to chase after a few nonseat belt users who are physically endangering none of us?," Pahoa resident Gerald Wright asked in a letter to West Hawaii Today during last year's Click It or Ticket Campaign.
The answer, simply, is money, Veriato said.
"I think it has to do with Kona officers concerned about living wages," Veriato said. "With the cost of living being so high, It motivates Kona officers to work so hard (on DUI and seat belt enforcement)."
Grants the department receives for things like seat belt enforcement and DUI checkpoints pays for overtime costs for officers, which allows such enforcement to go on without taking away from the officers regular duties. Officers typically do such enforcement either before starting a shift or after, Lt. Brad Ballesteros said.
"There's no funding available (from the government) for these officers to pick up extra burglary cases," Ballesteros said. "The officers have to go with where the money is available."
The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), which provides seat belt enforcement grants to 12,000 law enforcement agencies across the nation, is spending $500 million to enforce seat belt laws under the Transportation Equity Act. The rational being that of the 31,693 people that died in last year in traffic crashed, 55 percent were not wearing their seat belt at the time of the crash.
Some studies, however, call into question the federal government's push for seat belt laws and whether it is having the desired affect of lowering fatality rates on the roads.
Since Hawaii enacted its seat belt law in 1985, recorded usage has surged above 90 percent, well above the national average and three times the state's pre-law usage rate of 33 percent. Still, Hawaii's fatality rate has continued to rise every year since enacting the law, with the Big Island consistently having the highest traffic fatality rates in the state. By 1990, five years after the law was enacted, the frequency of fatal accidents actually rose 10 percent across the state.
However, a recent study commissioned by the NHTSA concluded that states that have seat belt laws in place have lower overall fatality rates than those who do not.
Still, of the 12 traffic fatalities so far this year, seven occurred in West Hawaii and just three of those victims were wearing a seat belt. And while police acknowledge the public's concerns about enforcement priorities, Veriato maintains that saving even one life should be high on the list.
"There is no bigger problem for us than people dying," Veriato said. "There's still a percentage of people out there who are not buckling up. We have 30 to 40 traffic fatalities a year and at least a third of those that died were not wearing a seat belt. It's still an important issue."
Traffic is 'hell,' East Hawaii drivers complain
more growth on big island means more cars and more aggressive driving
by Jason Armstrong
Stephens Media Group
Friday, December 23, 2005 9:22 AM HST
Nancy Lincoln doesn't have to be told that Big Island roads are getting increasingly crowded.
The Mountain View resident said her daily commute to Hilo now takes about 45 minutes, compared to 25 minutes when she arrived here eight years ago.
Three new traffic lights along Highway 11 and "a lot more cars" are the reasons, she said.
Lincoln, who works in human resources for Kuwaye Trucking Inc., also has seen effects congested roads are having on commercial freight haulers.
"I can tell you right now it's hell," she said Thursday. "They all try to pass our tankers. It's not a good situation."
This year alone, two motorists hit Kuwaye trucks after trying to overtake the big rigs as they drove along the Hamakua Coast, Lincoln said.
Lincoln's experiences are not unique.
"We get a lot of calls about reckless drivers -- people passing on the shoulder," said police Sgt. Dexter Veriato, head of the department's Traffic Services Section.
If a license number is provided, police send a warning card to the offending driver along with a reminder to drive safely, he said.
Instances of more aggressive driving are rising as the increase in the number of registered vehicles is outpacing the island's rapid population growth.
Hawaii County last year registered 7,323 more cars, light-duty trucks, commercial vehicles and motorcycles than it did in 2003. The island's population grew by 4,236 residents during the same period, according to county figures.
"It's pretty steady," county Treasurer Mike Okumoto said of the rise in the number of the four categories of registered vehicles.
Big Island vehicle registration numbers jumped 5.7 percent from 2003 to 2004, the latest year that complete data is available, Okumoto said, citing statewide figures compiled by the City and County of Honolulu.
"Prior to that, we led the state for the last three years in percentage increase," he said.
The greatest recent growth occurred on Kauai, which experienced a 6.2 percent spike in its number of registered vehicles. Hawaii County was second, followed by Maui County at 5.5 percent and Honolulu with 3.2 percent growth.
The increase statewide from 2003 to 2004 was 4.1 percent, Okumoto said.
He suggested population growth and a strong economy have led to the rise in the number of Big Island vehicles.
Hawaii County last year registered 132,416 cars and light-duty trucks, Okumoto said. Another 11,183 commercial trucks -- vehicles used for business and/or weighing more than 6,000 pounds are considered to be commercial -- 3,075 motorcycles, and 7,480 trailers also were registered in 2004, he said.
This year's figures should be even higher once the final numbers are in, he predicted.
Fueled with a larger budget due to more vehicles being registered, Hawaii County will add another processing clerk in Kailua-Kona next week and later hopes to add a half-time person in Hilo to handle the heavier work load, Okumoto said.
"Lunch hours it gets kind of busy," he said of people renewing their annual vehicle registration in Hilo.
Okumoto said he also has taken steps to avoid running out of license plates, which happened in 2003.
"We ordered a lot," he said. "We kind of like stockpiled them."
Still, Hawaii County only has about one month's worth of vehicle-title forms in stock and is awaiting delivery of more, he said.
"We're comfortable with it right now," Okumoto added.
By the numbers
Number of registered vehicles, by type and calendar year, registered with Hawaii County. Also included for comparison is the Big Island's resident population.
- Cars and light-duty trucks: 126,339
- Commercial vehicles: 10,217
- Motorcycle:s 2,795
- Trailers: 7,408
- Population (as of July 1): 158,735
- Cars and light-duty trucks: 132,416
- Commercial vehicles: 11,183
- Motorcycles: 3,075
- Trailers: 7,480
- Population: (as of July 1) 162,971
- Cars and light-duty trucks: 127,294
- Commercial vehicles: 10,753
- Motorcycles: 2,838
- Trailers: 7,481
*Through Nov. 30. Data provided by Hawaii County
Teen drivers face new rules
3-step license's goal: prevent accidents
by Betsy Tranquilli
West Hawaii Today
Friday, December 2, 2005 9:51 AM HST
When Kailua-Kona resident Jan Peterson took her teenage daughter, Candy, to get her driving permit this week, she came across a curious brochure outlining new restrictions her daughter will face before she gets her actual driver's license. Reading over the new Graduated License Law, several concerns and questions about all the new restrictions immediately came to mind.
"I'm a single parent of three kids. There is no way of getting my daughter around," Peterson said. "It puts a hardship on parents. A tremendous hardship."
Peterson, her daughter and several other parents with similar questions got a quick tutorial Thursday night at Kealakehe High School on all the nuances of the Graduated License law and what it means for both new drivers and parents.
Effective Jan. 9, the graduated licensing program, enacted by the Hawaii Legislature, establishes a three-stage program for drivers under 18. Anyone who already obtained a driver's license prior to Jan. 9 is not subject to the new restrictions.
During the 1990's, many states moved toward enacting graduated licensing laws when statistics began showing a high crash rate for young drivers. A total of 40 states have all three stages in place, although the laws and systems vary from state to state.
The law is "by no means new or unusual punishment," said State Farm Insurance spokeswoman Caroline Fujioka, who ran the informational session Thursday and lobbied for the new law. "Hawaii is kind of behind the curve on this."
The first step is the Instructional Permit Phase, where a driver can get an instructional permit any time after they are 15 years and 6 months in age. The permit requires that the driver must have the permit on them at all times when driving and must have someone with a drivers license who is 21 or older seated next to them. Between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., that licensed adult must be the minor driver's parent or guardian. The permit is valid for one year.
The major change comes with the Provisional License, which minors can obtain when they are at least 16 but under 18, have an instructional permit with no violations, complete a state certified driver's education course and pass a road test.
The Provisional License phase requires that the driver not carry more than one person below the age of 18 unless accompanied by a licensed parent or guardian. The provisional licensee driver also must have a guardian or parent in the car for nighttime driving, except if the driver needs the car for a job or traveling to a school authorized activity. In both cases, the driver must have a signed statement from either their employer or parent verifying the activity. In both situations, the provisional driver can't have more than one person under 18 in the car unless a parent or guardian of the driver is with them. The provisional license expires on the driver's 19th birthday.
In order to get a full driver's license, the minor driver has to have a provisional license for at least six months with no violations and be at least 17.
If a driver is caught in violation of any of these terms, they will have their provisional license suspended for three months for the first infraction and six months for the second violation. If they are convicted of a motor vehicle offense with the provisional license, the license is suspended for six months for the first conviction and one year for the second conviction.
Police are in the process of learning the rules of the new law themselves, but Fujioka said most of the enforcement is going to come from the parents.
"The police are very supportive of this and testified in favor of it," Fujioka said. "But they know the parents are the primary enforcers. If your child is found in violation of the law, it's probably because they were stopped for some other infraction, like speeding."
After hearing the presentation, Nan Cain, who attended Thursday's meeting with her 15-year-old daughter Ashley, said the law isn't as bad as she thought it would be.
"It's a lot better than the rumors I heard about this," Cain said.
Law effective Jan. 9
Key Elements Of The New "Provisional" Stage Include:
- No unsupervised late night driving (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.)
- Limits on the number of passengers allowed in the vehicle during unsupervised driving
- For more information on the law, visit the state of Hawaii Public Affairs Web site at http://www.state.hi.us/dot/publicafairs/index.htm
New safety program allows residents to report speeders
by Betsy Tranquilli
West Hawaii Today
Thursday, October 27, 2005 9:00 AM HST
Warning to speeding motorists: Neighborhood watches have gone mobile.
Concerned about the high number of accidents and speeders on Big Island roadways, the Traffic Task Force arm of the community group Solutions devised a project to help police keep speeders in check, even when they can't be out enforcing traffic themselves.
The project, dubbed "Community Road Safety Watch," allows anyone in the community to fill out a form listing the date, time, location, license plate number and type of traffic violation witnessed and submit it to police for their records. A letter, along with a fact card on impaired driving, is sent out to the registered owner of the car notifying them that the car was reported as committing a traffic violation.
"It's an awareness project," Assistant Chief Ronald Nakamichi said. "This way, at least the registered owner is aware that the car was seen driving in an unsafe manner."
There are no tickets issued for the alleged infraction, but the information is entered into a database that can show police areas that are receiving a high volume of complaints or even a particular car that keeps getting reported, Solutions Traffic Task Force chairman Lil Beaufrere said.
To date, there have been 1,931 major accidents this year, compared to 1,994 during the same period last year, according to police statistics. There have been 29 traffic fatalities on the Big Island this year, along with 13 alcohol-related fatalities. There have been nine drug-related fatalities to date, compared to 11 at the same time last year.
Beaufrere said it is imperative that the community take a more proactive approach to help bring those statistics down.
"All of us have to work together to get speeding taken care of. It's not just a police or prosecutor issue. It all of our jobs," Beaufrere said. "We know we have a lack of police officers out there, so we wanted to come up with a project to help that didn't cost the county or residents anything and this is what we came up with."
Beaufrere acknowledged that there is potential for abuse in reporting people for traffic violations that don't really happen, but said that police do check on each complaint and that the benefits of the program ultimately outweigh the possibility of misuse by the public.
So far, the program seems to be working the way it's meant to, Beaufrere said. The program has been quietly running for a year, logging in about 600 complaints of traffic violations with little complaint from the public, Beaufrere said.
The Community Road Safety Watch forms can be found on Solutions Web site at http://www.solutionsislandhawaii.com, or at police stations and prosecutors offices around the island. They can be mailed, hand-delivered or faxed to the Police Department.
DOT aware of road issues
Congestion, road safety concerns common in state
BY TRAVIS LOOP
WEST HAWAII TODAY
Wednesday, June 22, 2005 9:27 AM HST
Hawaii County Council's support for improvements to Mamalahoa Highway reflects statewide attention on roads, said Department of Transportation officials.
Council members unanimously adopted a resolution last week supporting recommendations by the Kona Traffic Safety Committee (KTSC) for improving Mamalahoa, a state highway, between mile markers 11 and 28, or from Makalei Golf Course to the intersection of Waikoloa Road.
"I think the resolution highlights the importance of transportation issues on the island, which has actually become a focal point of counties all around the state," said Brennon Morioka, DOT deputy director of highways. "The need to take a more comprehensive look at how state and county government can work together on transportation might be the impetus for what the county passed."
In the resolution, the council agreed with KTSC that Mamalahoa is narrow, without shoulders in some stretches, bounded by lava rock outcrops, steep drop-offs and lacks appropriate sightlines and barriers to insure the safety of motorists.
The resolution also states that Mamalahoa is the most direct and heavily traveled route from Kailua-Kona to Waimea and Hilo, and in its current condition is a dangerous and inferior road.
Morioka and DOT director Rodney Haraga have attended numerous meetings of the KTSC and other local groups to hear resident's concerns and share state plans. In May, Morioka met with community members in Puuanahulu and toured Mamalahoa Highway. No council members, however, called Morioka regarding the resolution.
"We are already trying to provide updates to KTSC and other groups -- hopefully the communication lines are continuously open and we don't have to wait for resolutions," Morioka said.
Redesigning Mamalahoa to current highway standards would cost about $150 million, said Morioka.
The road is slated for $350,000 in safety improvements including guardrails, expanded shoulders and reduction of rock outcroppings in select locations, such as the half-mile long bend at Puuanahulu. The pavement between mile marker 16 and 28 will also be resurfaced. Design should start in July with construction beginning a year later.
A KTSC subcommittee which studied the road and consulted area residents, said more should be done and provided several recommendations to improve safety.
"We appreciate input from community groups like Kona Traffic Safety Committee -- we appreciate that they provide suggested solutions that are feasible rather than just complaining," Morioka said.
KTSC suggests the state add paved turnouts on each side of the highway to provide police with locations for using radar, pulling cars over and to turnaround for pursuit. Paved turnouts also give motorists a safe place to pull over if they breakdown or want to let another vehicle pass.
Dan Olson, KTSC co-chair, said a lack of enforcement makes Mamalahoa a more dangerous road.
Morioka said DOT maintenance crews are currently working to expand shoulders and create paved turnouts where possible.
"We will target areas acceptable to the police department and that allow them to step up enforcement," Morioka said.
KTSC also recommends correcting center of the road striping to be solid double yellow lines in more locations. The groups supports adding rumble bumps along the centerline and shoulders, and rumble strips in the lanes leading to the Puuanahulu bluff.
The DOT is now considering inclusion of rumble bumps and strips as part of the upcoming resurfacing project, Morioka said.
While the community and county had long clamored for widening Queen Kaahumanu Highway, the recent calls for improving Mamalahoa means the roads compete for the same federal and state highway dollars.
"If priorities start to shift and residents want more focus on Mamalahoa, that is something we need to look at, but there is a limited amount of funds we work with -- widening Queen Kaahumanu is a big ticket item," Morioka said.
Honolulu Advertiser, Sunday MAY 26, 2005
New Traffic Laws 2005
Posted on: Thursday, May 26, 2005
Teen drivers have new hurdle to clear
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
Those under 18 will need to go through an extra step before getting a full driver's license under a bill signed yesterday by Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, filling in for Gov. Linda Lingle, who is off island.
The new provisional driver's license comes between acquiring an instructional permit and a standard driver's license. The law is designed to reduce traffic fatalities and accidents involving teens. It takes effect Jan. 9 and will run for five years to allow lawmakers time to study its effectiveness.
Other measures Aiona signed yesterday require motorists to stop - instead of just slowing down or yielding - when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk on the vehicle's side of the street, and increase penalties for those who violate laws relating to child-passenger restraint, car alarms and lights.
To receive a provisional license, a teen must hold a permit for at least six months and complete a certified driver's license education course and 50 hours of supervised practice driving. The teen then can obtain a full license at age 17 if he or she has held a provisional license for at least six months and has no action pending that might result in a license suspension or revocation.
With a provisional license, a teen is limited to driving only one passenger who is under 18, although an exemption is granted to household members. The teen is prohibited from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, or traveling to and from work or a school-related activity.
Bryson Mitsuda, 17, likely won't have to deal with the new graduated license since he now has an instructional permit and expects to get a regular license by the end of the year "after I've had enough practice."
But the 'Aiea High School junior, a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving's Youth In Action group, said he believes the provisional license is a good idea.
"It makes it better for people to be better drivers," Mitsuda said. "It takes practice."
Ashleigh Lucio, also a Youth In Action member, agreed. "I know people who race and speed," said Lucio, a 16-year-old who just graduated from Moanalua High School. The additional time would allow teens to get better educated before graduating to a full license, said Lucio, who will be attending UCLA in the fall and does not have a driver's license.
Another new law requires a motorist to stop and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk when the pedestrian is "upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger."
The law takes effect immediately.
The third law signed by Aiona sets a minimum penalty for repeat offenders of child-restraint laws at $100 for a second offense in three years and $200 for a third offense during the same period. The old law set only maximum penalties - $200 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense, without regard to when the previous violations occurred.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com or at 525-8070.
Honolulu Advertiser, Sunday MAY 22, 2005
Big Island roads are deadliest
Traffic fatality rate two or three times the state average
Posted on: Sunday, May 22, 2005
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer
The Big Island is the deadliest place to drive in Hawai'i.
Whether measured by population or miles driven, the fatality rate in Hawai'i County is consistently two to three times the rest of the state, and a growing number of doctors, lawmakers and concerned residents are wondering why more isn't being done to stop the deaths and injuries.
"We're tired of seeing our friends and neighbors dying on the roads," said state Rep. Josh Green. "The time has come to recommit ourselves to safety."
Over the past five years, the Big Island has accounted for about 28 percent of all traffic deaths in Hawai'i, even though it has only 12 percent of the population. Last year, 41 people died on the roads there. In a two-month period earlier this year, nine people died - including a 17-year-old high school honor student, two well-known community activists, two tourists and an elite wheelchair athlete.
Experts fear that the problem may be getting worse.
With homes being built farther from existing jobs and the new Hawai'i Superferry expected to bring hundreds more driving tourists to the island every week starting in 2007, residents worry there will be even more fatal crashes.
"Vacationers must also reconsider their plans, particularly if they want to drive anywhere. The roads are too unsafe and the emergency specialist care they may need cannot be assured," Dr. Barry Blum, an orthopedic surgeon at Kona Community Hospital, warned in a commentary earlier this month.
There's no single reason for the island's higher death rate, traffic safety officials say. Instead, they cite a long list of contributing factors:
* The island has far more miles of undivided, high-speed highways than elsewhere.
* Many of the roads in rural areas are cut through mountainsides, with little or no shoulders and steep cliffs that produce frequent rockfalls.
* The percentage of alcohol-related fatalities is much higher than in the rest of the state.
* Forced into long commutes, many residents are driving while fatigued or in bad weather.
* Police enforcement of speeding, alcohol, drug and other traffic laws is limited by long distances and a shortage of officers.
* Emergency medical service teams responding to rural roadway crashes often have to come from far away, extending the time before a victim receives first aid or hospital care. A shortage of doctors at Big Island hospitals exacerbates the problem.
On the east side of the island, rockslides present one of the biggest dangers in isolated rural areas.
"These conditions near vertical walls rain rock and debris on the highway with almost every rain and result in frequent large collapses which occur without warning and frequently block the highway," said Dr. Scott Grosskreutz. "I have never seen any roads built through such unstable soil conditions with such vertical cuts anywhere else in the United States."
Elsewhere on the island, long stretches of undivided highway, high alcohol and drug use, and spotty police enforcement all complicate the picture.
"We started looking into this in 2001 when we noticed that the overall age-adjusted death rates were high," said Dr. Sharon Vitousek, part of the North Hawai'i Outcomes Project, a group focusing on public health issues. "When we investigated, we found traffic accidents were a leading cause of death here."
Alcohol is involved in more than half the Big Island deaths. Over the last 10 years, 52.9 percent of all motor vehicle-related fatalities on the Big Island involved alcohol, compared to 41.7 percent for Honolulu and a national average of 40 percent.
Rep. Green said the county doesn't have enough police to deal with the problem.
"The Police Department is operating with 71 unfilled positions," he said.
"Sometimes you've got only three or four officers on duty covering several hundreds of square miles. If they go to a domestic complaint, there's no one left to patrol the roads when someone passes you at 85 mph."
What's more, the department has only one officer certified as a drug recognition expert, Vitousek said.
"It may take hours to get him out to a site where someone is suspected of driving under the influence of drugs," she said.
State and county officials say they are aware of the problems and are trying to provide some relief:
* Using federal grants, the state recently helped create a coordinator position to head a county alcohol-reduction task force as well as step up participation in programs such as the national "You Drink, You Drive, You Lose" campaign and the local "Hugs, not Drugs," said Gordon Hong, head of the Department of Transportation's Safe Communities Program.
* DOT officials said a private contractor has just completed a report to identify the most dangerous rockfall areas on the Hamakua Coast. The state is studying the report before releasing it to the public, a spokesman said.
* In an effort to reduce head-on crashes, the state later this year will sign a contract to expand the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway in Kona between Henry Street and the airport from two lanes to four and add a 30-foot landscaped median. Other phases of the widening and safety project are expected to continue through 2017.
* Vitousek's group, working with the state Health Department's Injury Prevention Program, has produced a map showing the location of all fatal accidents in the last 10 years and is analyzing related injury data.
* The group also is working with police and county officials to give the problems more public recognition and to offer solutions, ranging from education to engineering to enforcement.
Even so, some worry that the Big Island traffic problem isn't getting its fair share of attention or money from the Legislature.
"We've got to continue making a better investment in safety features, education and police enforcement," said Green, D-6th (Kailua, Keauhou).
Vitousek also noted that the state will hold a hearing this week on the Big Island to solicit comments and recommendations on more than 50 planned traffic improvement projects there.
"But in many cases we don't know anything about the need or the projects," she said. "The state won't even tell us where the traffic safety hot spots are. How can we make recommendations without that knowledge?"
Road conditions worry residents
Improvements wanted for substandard road
BY TRAVIS LOOP
WEST HAWAII TODAY
Sunday, May 8, 2005 9:10 AM HST
Puuanahulu residents all tell the same stories -- of vehicles speeding through their small community
on Mamalahoa Highway, cars careening off the sharp bend on the nearby pali, a lack of local law
enforcement and a dangerous, substandard road in need of improvements.
The complaints were all repeated Saturday for Brennon Morioka, deputy director of highways for the
state Department of Transportation, who attended a public meeting at Puuanahulu Community Center to
gather resident input on the mauka highway.
"Mamalahoa was originally a cane hauling road, not designed for traffic, and when it was upgraded, not
enough was done," Morioka told a 30-person audience. "To make major improvements and design the entire
road to current standards would be a challenge."
Such a long-term undertaking for the state highway would cost about $50 million, he said. In the
meantime, Mamalahoa Highway is slated for $350,000 in safety improvements including guardrails,
lighting, expanded shoulders and reduction of rock outcroppings in select locations, such as the
half-mile long bend at Puuanahulu. The road between mile marker 16 and 28 will also be resurfaced.
Design should start in July with construction beginning in July 2006.
During Morioka's visit, which was arranged by state Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Hawaii, he acknowledged
that congestion on Queen Kaahumanu Highway has increased the use of Mamalahoa Highway. To improve the
area's traffic flow and safety, he said the state is committed to making Queen Kaahumanu a four-lane
divided highway from Kailua-Kona to Kawaihae, which will ultimately cost $500 million.
Residents, however, were more concerned about immediate solutions to safety hazards in the Puuanahulu
area and called for an increased police presence.
"Police have said they can't and won't patrol here because there is nowhere to pull people over," said
Jerry King, who represented a Mamalahoa Highway subcommittee of the Kona Traffic Safety Committee.
Paved turnouts would provide a place for police enforcement and for broken down and slower vehicles to
pull over, King said.
"To get the attention of people who are speeding, you need to hit them in their pocketbooks," said Ed
Cross of Puu Lani Ranch. "Right now it is widely known you can do whatever you want on this road."
Dan Olson, co-chairman of the KTSC, said there should be a state patrol force.
"It is silly that the state provides highways, especially substandard ones, and they don't provide
patrols to enforce the laws," Olson said.
Numerous residents called for the speed limit to be reduced from 55 mph to 35 mph through the
community and along the steep pali where many cars have been in accidents. Current 35 mph signs are
yellow -- only cautionary -- and not official speed limit signs, which are white. Morioka said he
would consult the traffic branch about reducing the speed limit.
Residents' suggestions for the Puuanahulu area also included signs letting drivers know they are
passing through a neighborhood, rumble strips before the pali and a blinking yellow light to catch
Rod Imming of Puu Lani Ranch said the community should create a neighborhood watch and organize groups
to waive signs urging motorists to slow down. Residents were also told to use blue cards created by
the Solutions task force on traffic, which allow people to submit license plate numbers of speeding
vehicles to police, who in turn send a warning letter to the owner of the car.
Final inclusion of Mamalahoa resurfacing and safety improvements in the DOT's Statewide Transportation
Improvement Program are dependent on resident support, Morioka said.
The DOT creates a three-year STIP plan for road projects based on state, local and resident
priorities. Community input will be gathered at meetings at the Waimea Civic Center on May 25 and at
Konawaena High School on May 26.
County claims progress
OFFICIALS DETAIL VARIOUS PLANS FOR MORE ROADS
By TIFFANY EDWARDS
WEST HAWAII TODAY
Saturday, April 23, 2005 7:56 AM HST
HILO -- Although drivers may not see any progress on county initiatives to address West Hawaii traffic
woes, county officials claim progress is being made.
Managing Director Dixie Kaetsu and Public Works Director Bruce McClure provided an update on projects
being pursued by the administration, breaking them down into four categories: Traffic mitigation;
connector roads; improvements to north-south traffic flow; and long-range planning.
Public Works engineers plan to realign Kealakaa Street to intersect with Palani Road at Paliohiolo
Street with a traffic signal and left-turn pockets. It will entail constructing a 700-foot road
segment of Kealakaa Street, with curbs, gutters and sidewalks, retaining walls, guardrails and
Described as a high-priority project by Mayor Harry Kim's administration more than four years ago, the
latest project delay has been the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Historic Preservation
Office taking a month and a half to sign off on the completed environmental assessment (EA). Once
done, the EA can be published, public hearings can be held, and the county can pursue land acquisition
of the 700-foot roadway from the DLNR.
County Engineer Bob Yanabu said he set a target date Sept. 30 to sign the construction contract.
County engineers also plan to install right-turn lanes on Hina Lani and Kaiminani streets onto
Mamalahoa Highway, a traffic signal at the Hina Lani Street-Mamalahoa Highway intersection, and a
right-turn lane on Hina Lani Street onto Queen Kaahumanu Highway.
County engineers are preparing specifications for the Hina Lani-Mamalahoa intersection, but have
completed construction plans for the Kaimininani/Mamalahoa and Hina Lani/Queen Kaahumanu
intersections. The construction plans for those intersections have been sent to the state Department
of Transportation (DOT) for review, since the intersections would be in state rights-of-way. Once DOT
reviews the plans, the project will be bid on for construction.
A 400-foot strip of roadway was dedicated to the county Wednesday, connecting Nana and Holoholo
streets and the Kona Coastview and Palisades subdivisions in Kalaoa. Officials are pursuing
connectivity of those subdivisions and others in the area with at least three other routes:
Ahiahi-Kauhale; Holu-Keokeo; and Ili Ili-Kiekie.
Developer Dennis Young and family members plan to build and dedicate approximately 550 feet of roadway
between Ahiahi and Kauhale streets, and the county Highways Division will put in a gravel road for the
remaining 300 feet needed to connect the two streets. County engineers are conducting a title search
and an eminent domain resolution for the 850 feet of roadway will follow.
Holu Street is a completed, private road with a barrier in place to restrict vehicles from passing
onto Keokeo Street. County officials are conducting a title search and preparing an eminent domain
resolution, but will not remove the barrier until another connection is made between the subdivisions
aside from Nana and Holoholo streets.
Approximately 1,400 feet of work between Kiekie and Iliili streets has been completed by developer Dan
Bolton, and an appraisal report is in progress. A title search and preparation of an eminent domain
resolution is to follow.
As Kuakini Highway is being widened to four lanes between Hualalai and Palani roads, the county is
seeking to make Laaloa Street a public through street from Alii Drive to Kuakini Highway. It is now a
gated and locked emergency access. Towne Keauhou LLC is preparing the EA for a new 60-foot-wide road
and, when completed, land acquisition of 1,400 feet for the extension will follow. Engineers expect to
commence construction in the middle of 2006.
The county wants to construct another mauka-to-makai connector road between Alii Drive and Kuakini
Highway at Puaa, just south of the Kona Marketplace. It is investigating constructing a 600-foot
roadway there, but it "may involve significant archaeological issues."
Also on the list is Lako Street, which the county wants to extend mauka and makai. On the mauka end,
Lako Street would connect the Iolani and Kona Vista subdivisions, and Kuakini Highway and Hualalai
Road. On the makai end, Lako Street would connect Kuakini Highway to Alii Drive.
Grading and National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits are nearing completion for
developer-funded Lako Street mauka project, however, a lawsuit challenging the EA has halted the Lako
Street makai project.
John Kobayashi, represented by Kona attorney Mike Matsukawa, believes the county should have prepared
an environmental impact statement, not an EA, since Keolonahihi Complex lies where Lako Street makai
is expected to traverse.
In efforts to improve what officials describe as "serious traffic flow problems in South Kona" the
county last year said it south to change traffic patterns, prohibit on-street parking and add turn
lanes on Mamalahoa Highway in Honalo, Kainaliu, Kealakekua and Captain Cook.
County Engineer Casey Yanagihara is expected to detail those plans for South Kona at an as yet
unscheduled public meeting in mid-May.
In Kailua-Kona, a Kaloko Light Industrial Area developer plans a Kamanu Street Extension to Kealakehe
Parkway. That 2,700-foot-long road will serve as a collector road between the parkway and Hina Lani
Street, and will include paved shoulders and swales, drainage improvements and street lights.
Archaeological issues -- a lava tube in the area -- will be addressed before road design can be
As for the southern phase of Alii Parkway, the Hawaii Island Burial Council last summer refused to
allow the County of Hawaii to relocate a burial found to be in the road's path.
R.M. Towill planning consultants have prepared a preliminary re-design of the 2.4 miles of road from
Keauhou Shopping Center to Lako Street makai and, after reviewing it with the county this weekend,
will submit the re-design to burial council members.
The county has been coordinating with DOT and the Federal Highways Administration to ensure that an 80
percent federal matching fund lost last year will be available next federal fiscal year, which begins
Mamalahoa Highway Bypass, otherwise known as Hokulia Bypass, is expected to connect with the southern
phase of Alii Parkway some day. Construction of that 5.5-mile road from Keauhou to Napoopoo Junction
was stopped in September 2003 when the Third Circuit Court issued an injunction against the entire
Hokulia development for being an illegal use of agricultural land.
The northern phase of the road is completed, except the intersection with Halekii Street. Officials
said there is a burial at that intersection which needs to be addressed.
The county Planning Department also is studying two different corridors, the Hienaloli Extension and
Keahole to Kailua for long-range transportation plans.
For more information, call Beaufrere at 325-0039.
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