Waipi‘o Valley Road to Close to Pedestrians; Open for Valley Resident Vehicle Traffic Only as Plan to Fix Route Begins
Hawai‘i County will shut down Waipi‘o Valley Road to pedestrians for safety reasons after the results of a geotechnical study on the steep, crumbling roadway was made public Thursday night.
The street will be open for local vehicle traffic only, but will also be closed completely during heavy rainfall, county officials said during a virtual meeting attended by 77 people. All the measures will limit the number of people and cars on the road, which will mitigate safety hazards on the narrow, one-lane road that traverses through dense forest into the valley floor.
“This is not where we want to be,” Mayor Mitch Roth said. “But it is a dangerous situation. … This is not something we want to do, it is something we have to do.”
Roth said he will issue an emergency proclamation as soon as Friday that will close the road.
What to do with the road has been a topic for years. Residents of the valley have been frustrated with overcrowding on the roadway, saying that up to 200 pedestrians on the path each day, combined with tourists’ cars and tour buses, make it seemingly impossible for farmers to commute the already dangerous route.
An ad-hoc community group has been meeting with stakeholders for the better part of two years to try to come up with solutions. Last year, the Hawai‘i County Council deferred a bill that would have limited pedestrian traffic on the access road on grounds that more work needed to be done before they made a decision.
As part of the work being done to analyze the situation, the county’s Department of Public Works contracted for a geotechnical study to analyze the structure of the road back in 2020. That study was finished in January, and made public Thursday evening, leading to the immediate road closure while the county begins to craft a plan on how to fix the road for the long term.
“This will give us a chance to make it a lot safer,” Roth said.
The geotechnical study found that the road presents hazards from rockfalls, shows serious slope instability due to steepness and is prone to future rockslides, rockfalls or slope failure when exposed to water, wind and erosion.
The entire report can be viewed here.
“This is not news to you folks,” Public Works Deputy Steve Pause said of the road’s dangers.
The next steps the county will take in the next four to six months will be to develop a mitigation plan that will identify how to fix areas and stabilize portions of the road that need immediate attention. After that, further evaluation will be needed, where design plans and cost estimates for the entire road project will be prepared so it can go out to bid. A timeline for that portion hasn’t been nailed down. All environmental and archeological protocols will be followed during those processes, officials said. The project, once it begins, will likely be done in phases.
While the immediate action of closing the road is happening now, other details are still being worked out. Officials said community collaboration will be key in helping make the transition smoother.
What exactly the new rule enforcement will look like isn’t set in stone, officials said. How the public can access the public hiking trails, beach and camping area in the valley hasn’t been figured out yet, either. Department of Lands and Natural Resources staff at the meeting said they will work with the county for the betterment of public safety while trying to find possible access solutions for the public, if possible. Public awareness will be disseminated, and tour groups that travel to the area will be notified as best as possible, too. Community collaboration will be required to address the issue of valley residents who don’t have cars.
“This is a work in progress,” said Councilwoman Heather Kimball, whose district encompasses Waipi‘o Valley.
“Local-only traffic” right now is defined as Waipi‘o residents and people who have agricultural business in the taro and crop-filled valley.
Officials encouraged the public to contact the county if they have questions or concerns and offer suggestions as details on a long-term solution is being crafted.
Pause can be contacted at 808-961-8321; Kimball can be reached at 808-961-8828, and the DPW public information officer can be reached at 808-961-8499.
Future meetings will also be held. Those meetings will be announced as they get scheduled.