Monday, May 17, 2004

Big Isle halts Kailua-Kona
project due to traffic jams

The Council delays a crucial rezoning
vote at the mayor's request

KAILUA-KONA » Kona's traffic troubles have backed up across the Big Island into the Hawaii County Council chambers in Hilo.

The Council recently put the brakes -- at least temporarily -- on a development project north of Kailua-Kona at Mayor Harry Kim's request.

Kim asked the Council to delay a rezoning vote for the 83-acre hotel, apartment and retail project proposed south of Kona's airport and any other rezoning requests for 90 days, until the administration can devise a strategy or guidelines for building infrastructure.

Building roads at the same time as commercial and residential projects is "a common sense conclusion," Kim said.

"I wish I could say we have been doing this, but we haven't," he said.

Queen Kaahumanu Highway, which runs north-south along the island's west coast, and other main roads in Kona are at capacity, Kim said, and traffic is projected to double by the end of the decade.

"Highways are the No. 1 issue for most people," Kim said. "We can't just try to keep up, you'll never get there.

"You only have to look at Maui and Oahu to know that," he said.

While Kim has no plans for a complete freeze on rezoning requests for commercial projects, he said his staff now is looking at infrastructure islandwide, including emergency services. This includes reviewing some projects that have already been approved, but may need to be revised.

The state and county have plans to spend millions on road projects in Kona, including widening a portion of Queen Kaahumanu Highway to four lanes, building a parkway from Keauhou north toward Kailua and widening Kuakini Highway south of Kailua.

Construction on some of these projects, which is likely to make traffic worse, is expected to start this year, Kim said.

County Councilman Curtis Tyler, who represents Kailua and North Kona, said he appreciated the effort, but has little confidence much will change soon.

"I'm very pleased the mayor has recognized what we've been saying for so long. He made a very definitive statement," Tyler said. "I think they (the Hilo-based county administrators) are getting the message. I don't think it'll get done in 90 days, but I commend them for trying."

He acknowledged Kim's administration has dedicated more funds and resources to the west side of the island than the previous administration, noting he has seen county surveyors on West Hawaii roads in the week since the mayor made his request.

However, he questions whether a 90-day stay on one project will do any good.

Tyler said he is also concerned a new strategy to couple infrastructure with development may not be strong enough or may put an unfair burden on developers.

"We can't put the fiscal and legal responsibility on developers for correcting past deficiencies," he said.

In addition, he said he is unsure whether the mayor intends future projects to be approved if they have a plan for infrastructure or to be approved only after they have completed the infrastructure work.

Tackling the traffic is just one small part of the issue, said Ann Peterson of the Kona Traffic Safety Committee.

Economic development, affordable housing and long-term planning for alternative transportation also should be included in any new county strategy, she said.

For example, Peterson is calling for a pedestrian and bicycling path as part of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening plan and also favors setting aside a corridor now for a future mass transit system.

Still, she said, any attention the county pays to West Hawaii's traffic troubles is welcome.

"We were all in shock -- in a very positive way. The mayor had real guts and integrity to do that," she said.


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