Maui Roundabouts War: County Sets Aside Big Bucks to Battle State's New Kihei Traffic Circle

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UPKEEP: A maintenance worker provides finishing touches this week to the old roundabout near Safeway in Kihei.

Feeling competitive pressure from a new roundabout on island, the Maui County Council has allocated $1 million to help make its old traffic circles look as nice as the new one just opened on a busy highway next to a new high school in Kihei.

The State of Hawaii Department of Transportation recently opened a huge new roundabout on Piilani Highway (31), and county officials fear their existing traffic circles may appear inferior in comparison.

"We can't let the state just come in here and build a ginormous roundabout that no one wanted, in a terrible location, and then spend taxpayer dollars to make it look better than ours," said Jasper Tetreault, a County Council member who proposed the concept.

"If we don't invest to make our own roundabouts beautiful and well-maintained, maybe people would appreciate them more, and the state would not propose any more new traffic circles on this island, at least without a vote of the people."

The new Kihei roundabout, located adjacent to what will become a new high school for south Maui should officials ever figure out how teen-aged pedestrians can walk across the highway safely, is located at Kulanihakoi Street.

"Oh, the state came in here and made it look nice and pretty, considering all the backlash it received from parents and neighbors about the lack of a pedestrian overpass or underpass," said Karen O'Brien, who lives a block from the new roundabout. "And in the process they make our roundabouts look like something you might see at Disneyland."

State DOT officials dispute the assertion. "We think the previously existing little traffic circles on Maui are quaint, little soft roundabouts serving neighborhoods," said Jared Mea Ohenehene, spokesperson for the state DOT. "They're like apples and oranges compared with the colossus we built on Highway 31. The county's little circles look wonderful just the way they are."

Still, Tetreault and other county officials are taking no chances, pushing forward with plans to make major beautification additions to the roundabouts.

"The grass circle in the middle is a magnet for kids pitching golf balls to the center, which needs to be addressed," Tetreault said. "Plus, since the Portland woman got stuck driving in the Safeway roundabout for 4 hours that one time, we just might need better signage."

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