For more than a decade, North Shore residents have complained of crippling traffic slowdowns on Kamehameha Highway at Laniakea, also known as Turtle Beach, due to crowds of pedestrians pouring haphazardly over the two-lane road between the mauka parking lot and the popular beach for honu and big-wave watching.
“This summer we just heard so many horror stories about people stuck in traffic for an hour between Haleiwa and Waimea, missing doctor’s appointments and their kids’ activities,” Kathleen Pahinui, chairwoman of the North Shore Neighborhood Board, said Friday. “And now the turtles are starting to disappear because the surf gets too big for them, so now in winter you replace turtles (as an attraction) with surf.”
Now, just in time for the holidays, the 1,000-foot-long oceanfront stretch of road is getting some work done.
On Tuesday, workers from the state Department of Transportation began placing concrete barriers and plastic barrels along the mauka shoulder, walling off part of the parking area. On Friday, they painted crosswalks and installed yellow pedestrian crossing signs near the vehicle entrance and exit driveways at the Haleiwa and Waimea ends of the parking lot.
The purpose of the barriers is to promote safety and more regular traffic flow by funneling pedestrians into these two designated crossings, said Bill Saunders, attorney for the Save Laniakea Coalition, a community group that has long advocated for public parking and safer beach access at Laniakea and recently reached an interim settlement agreement with the city and state.
“Once fully in place, the new arrangement will be immeasurably better than the previous free-for-all,” coalition spokesman Blake McElheny said in a text message Thursday.
“They have done a bit of work for sure, smoothing out and making better transition from (the) highway,” he observed, but “both state and city have more work to do, (including) more barriers, more leveling.”
Work will continue at the site, requiring a single-lane closure on the highway from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, the DOT announced Thursday, noting traffic in both directions will be maintained through contraflow in the remaining lane, and warning motorists to expect delays.
IT’S NOT the first time barriers have been placed mauka of the road at Laniakea.
Barriers were initially installed by the state in December 2013 in such a way that they prevented parking on the highway’s mauka side.
In January 2014, the Save Laniakea Coalition and several individual surfers filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court seeking removal of the parking barriers. The plaintiffs argued DOT should have obtained a special permit for the barriers because Laniakea is in a protected state coastal district and special management area, and that the agency also should have conducted an environmental assessment as to how the barriers would impact public access to the beach.
“The barriers impacted and closed a city park without going through any review, which the law requires any time you’re going to increase or decrease use of shoreline management property,” Saunders said.
The court issued a temporary injunction in the plaintiffs’ favor, and in August 2015, DOT removed the barriers and installed signs banning parking, although the plaintiffs wanted the state to keep the barriers up, but with openings at either end, and the city to enlarge the parking area, Saunders said, noting the City and County of Honolulu owns the area mauka of the highway.
Ignoring the signs, beachgoers continued to park there. A child was struck by a vehicle while crossing the highway in August 2019 and was discharged from the hospital the next day.
Following the accident, the state pressed to replace the barriers, but the interim settlement agreement hadn’t been completed.
He noted that in October 2014, while the first set of barriers were in place, three pedestrians were struck by a hit-and-run driver at Laniakea.
Meanwhile, the city has been in coordination with the DOT regarding determination of the boundaries of the city’s property mauka of the highway and the scope of work to be done, Nathan Serota, spokesman for the city Department of Parks and Recreation, said in an email Friday.
Last year and in October, he noted, city crews “conducted minor maintenance on the undeveloped land,” which included installing a fence and clearing brush.
The current roadwork by DOT “will support the City’s improvements to the undeveloped land on the mauka side of Kamehameha Highway to allow for parking,” the state said in its announcement.
DOT is “deferring to the City regarding access to their land and barrier opening size,” Shelly Kunishige, the state agency’s communications manager, added in an email Friday.
Asked about residents’ reactions, Pahinui said “a lot of people are happy and others are more skeptical.”
“Everyone’s cautiously hoping that it works, that it provides us with some relief from traffic congestion,” she said, “but we’ll have to wait and see.”
The current changes, agreed upon by the parties under the oversight of Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree, are considered interim solutions because DOT is seeking to realign the highway inland at the coastal corridor that includes Laniakea in as early as two years’ time.
Star-Advertiser photographer Cindy Ellen Russell contributed to this article.
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