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Realign highway to resolve traffic along Laniakea

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A state judge has added his voice to the chorus calling for the removal of concrete barriers along a North Shore stretch of Kamehameha Highway that blocked access to a city parking area used for visitors to Laniakea Beach wanting to see the turtles for which the area has become famous.

That’s a good thing, as long as state transportation officials respond to the judicial nudge as they should: by moving swiftly to pursue the ultimate solution of a highway realignment.

Unfortunately, officials seem to be contemplating whether there are other options. According to the order from Circuit Judge Gary Chang, these could include getting special management area and shoreline setback variance permits that would allow the barriers to remain.

The state Department of Transportation should abandon that tack altogether. Permitting processes take months, time better spent making progress on real highways improvements that could provide a lasting fix.

The problem here is that, fueled by social media and other means, word has spread that Laniakea provides a good viewing location for turtles. In recent years, whole busloads of tourists had come to the city-owned 3-acre park land across the highway from the beach, where there had been an unimproved parking lot. Visitors would dart across the road, which was a safety hazard as well as a traffic-stopper.

After a task force had studied the situation, the solution was clear: Visitor parking needed to be on the ocean side of the highway, which means Kamehameha has to be realigned inland. Such a realignment will be necessary in any case, given the accelerating erosion of the shoreline, which in places is undercutting the roadway already.

During the 2014 legislative session, a total of $7 million — $1.4 million in revenue bond funds, the balance in federal money — was set aside for design and construction.

Gov. David Ige should push for the prompt completion of the realignment, which already has the support of area elected leaders and Save Laniakea, the community group that pressed the lawsuit against the barriers.

Blake McElhaney, one of the group members, said the barriers did manage to deter the tour buses, which suddenly had no room to park or even to stop for drop-offs. And because drivers were pushed to park some distance away, the highway crossings tended to be consolidated at fewer points, McElhaney said.

However, he added, it also added to the safety concerns because drivers squeezed into the narrow shoulders of the highway and exited cars inches from oncoming traffic. The two-lane highway at times became one lane, as passing drivers crossed into the opposite lane to avoid parked cars, and this made traffic backups worse.

There are short-term fixes that may help while contracts are being prepared and advertised. McElhaney suggested reopening the unpaved lot at narrow points that would only allow one-way traffic of cars to enter on one side of the lot and exit the other. This would accommodate vehicles more safely than on the shoulder and control crossings, where crosswalks could be painted — all for relatively little money.

These are ideas that should be pursued, with the ultimate goal of moving the parking and park where it can be enjoyed fully and safely — on the ocean side of this overtaxed, critical two-lane highway.

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