Monday, November 2, 1998

Castle High
access poses high
risk for drivers


By Debra Barayuga


Office clerk Harriet Henna dreads making a left turn from Castle High every day after work.

"It's ready, set, go," said Henna, who has to wait for a break in afternoon rush-hour traffic on Kaneohe Bay Drive before she can pull out.

Sometimes motorists are nice enough to let her in. Other times, it can mean a five-minute wait.

Left turns onto Kaneohe Bay Drive from Castle High School's lower campus parking lot have become a nightmare for many because of increasing numbers of cars on the road and speeding motorists.

"We can live with the traffic coming from Likelike as long as people obey the speed limit," said Barbara Teruya, Castle principal.

But motorists are going 10 to 15 mph over the 25-mph speed limit.

"It's scary."

So much so that motorists avoid taking the lower entrance that leads to the school office and auditorium.

Instead, parents and visitors more and more are using the upper campus entrance, which is congested with pedestrian and vehicular activity, said Florence Wasai, a parent volunteer who tries to arrive before the nightmare begins.

"Between 7 and 7:10 a.m. is not as bad, but forget 7:30."

Part of the problem with making left turns from the lower campus exit is that it's about 200 feet away from the busy Puohala intersection. And just before the intersection, four lanes merge into two.

Also, there is no median separating the two lanes of Kaneohe Bay Drive fronting Castle that would give motorists room to wait until the light changes at Puohala or there is a break in traffic. The view of cars coming from Kailua is also limited because of a bend in the road.

The safer but less convenient alternative would be to turn right and cut through the subdivision behind Castle High School, circling back to Kaneohe Bay Drive -- a distance of more than a mile. Teachers have had to do this just to get from the lower campus entrance to the upper campus entrance, both of which are accessible only from Kaneohe Bay Drive.

The school office is close enough to the roadway that Henna can hear cars screeching to avoid collisions, and she has seen some fender benders. So far there haven't been any serious injuries, she said. School officials and residents aren't waiting around for that to happen.

"We want to be good neighbors and don't want to make things difficult for anyone, but at the same time, I need to keep the safety of my students and staff in mind," Teruya said.

There have been no roadway improvements fronting the school over the years since Castle was built in 1951.

Parents and school officials are proposing that the state widen Kaneohe Bay Drive and put in a storage lane fronting Castle to make it easier to make left turns from the school. They're also asking the state to look into whether the recent synchronization of traffic lights at the Puohala and Mokulele intersections has aggravated the problem.

Wasai said many people think nothing can be done, figuring the state would have done something by now if it were possible.

But that apathy has to end and the state needs to listen, Wasai said.

"I know they have problems all over the state, but it's time to focus on our own situation."

State highways chief Peri Manthos said the Department of Transportation understands the concern and is looking at ways to improve the stretch of Kaneohe Bay Drive from Aumoku Street, next to Windward City Shopping Center, past Castle High to Mokulele Drive.

"We consider it a high priority," he said.

The department will be seeking design and construction funds for the project, totaling several million dollars, in the upcoming Legislature, he said.

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