East Maui residents overwhelmed by influx of visitors, traffic

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KHON2 News
by: Nikki Schenfeld

Posted: Jun 13, 2021 / 08:18 PM HST / Updated: Jun 13, 2021 / 08:19 PM HST
HONOLULU (KHON2) — During the pandemic, the rural East Maui community had been blocked off for health and safety reasons.
Now, the Road to Hana is open at a time when thousands of visitors are arriving on Maui daily and the state is doing construction at spots along the notoriously windy road.

“Since the sudden return of tourism, we have been receiving complaints from local residents about problems on Hana Highway. Some tourists have been parking illegally or stopping in the middle of the road to take photos of waterfalls or other sights on their way to Hana,” said Josiah Nishita, Maui County Deputy Managing Director during a press conference on Thursday.

“Please, do not stop in the middle of the road to take a photo, risking the health and safety of others and yourself for a photo op (opportunity) is unacceptable and not allowed,” he continued.  

The county and state transportation department announced they would be installing 10 ‘No Parking’ signs at popular spots along Hana Highway such as Twin Falls, Bamboo Forest, Hanawa, Waikamoi, Ching’s Pond, Waikani Bridge and Puaa Kaa Park.

“The signs will inform drivers of a $35 parking violation and a $200 parking violation for parking or stopping on a state highway,” Nishita explained.

Maui County said Maui Police have already issued dozens of parking violation citations.

Photo ops aren’t the only cause of gridlock lately, heavy flooding in March led to rockslides and other issues, prompting current roadwork and lane closures.

Hana Highway in Haiku closed due to landslide 
“You have 40 to 50 cars piling up at these traffic lights and then embarking bumper to bumper along the Road to Hana, and when these sets of cars come upon the bridges where there are people illegally parked it creates scenarios of full stoppage,” explained Hana resident and Hana Highway Regulation Administrator Napua Hueu. “We have residents who have sent in videos of them being stalled at a bridge for up to 30 minutes.”

One of those lights is located a mile and a half up the road from Twin Falls. Workers in the area said once the light turns red a mile up the road, it leads to a pile up of cars gridlocked for 45 minutes.

“We get to see the whole line of traffic, when that stop light turns red the line of traffic from there all the way past Twin Falls, it’s insanity,” said Twin Falls Parking Advisor Aina Harold.

Twin Falls land owners added parking advisors and are working with the county to prevent people from parking along Hana Highway.

“We’re only taking 43 cars, but during spring break I’d say we had about 200 plus cars trying to park along the roadways and in our parking lot, and along Hana Highway. That’s a lot of cars to be parking on the shoulders of highways,” Harold continued.

Some residents want the state and county to restrict access to East Maui until the road work is complete and others want to implement a reservation system for the Road to Hana.

“Hana Highway is public access and it’s federally funded, so the DOT cannot block the route unless there’s significant safety or congestion issues that we foresee because of situations,” explained Highways State Deputy Director Ed Sniffen. “In this situation, at this time, we don’t see it, so we don’t have any plans to block off Hana Highway, but we want to make sure that we work with the community and with the county to try and balance off that congestion relief with the influx of tourists that are coming through.”

Sniffen said implementing the ‘No Parking’ signs does not have to do with the roadwork taking place.

“They’re going to be out there permanently. We do not want people parking on that route. It makes it very difficult for people to pass and it’s dangerous, so we’re making sure we take the steps with the county to ensure safety in that area,” Sniffen said.

The DOT said it will be a few weeks until Twin Falls and other spots have the permanent ‘No Parking’ signs installed.

Sniffen said the roadwork near Twin Falls should be completed by the end of July, weather permitting, and the work near mile marker 12 is expected to last until the end of the year.