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Interim DPW Director Responds to Criticisms About Waiānuenue Avenue Rehabilitation Project

By Nathan Christophel
July 20, 2022, 7:30 AM HST
* Updated July 21, 12:38 PM
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The county Department of Public Works will take another look at adding bicycle lanes into a road project underway on a portion of a major corridor in Hilo.

Interim county Department of Public Works Director Steven Pause appeared Tuesday, July 19, before the Hawaiʻi County Council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit to give an update on the Waiānuenue Avenue rehabilitation project. He also addressed criticisms that the project doesn’t include bicycle lanes and other multi-modal transportation features and that the department isn’t following county initiatives to ensure road projects are safe for all users, not just motorists.

Interim county Department of Public Works Director Steven Pause speaks Tuesday, July 19, before the Hawaiʻi County Council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit. (Screenshot from video)

Pause was supposed to give his update during the committee’s July 5 meeting but was unable to attend because he was ill. The update was postponed until Tuesday’s meeting.

At the heart of the criticism is what some community and council members think is a disregard by DPW of Complete Streets principles and the county’s Vision Zero action plan. Both were adopted to improve safety and multi-modal transportation in county road projects.

“I apologize for missing the last session, but I did get to watch, and I did get to watch the testimony and read some of the letters as well,” Pause told the committee Tuesday.

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He’s had several discussions with the traffic and engineering staff at DPW and wanted to make sure the committee knew the department is behind the county’s initiatives.

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“We do take Complete Streets seriously; we’re behind Complete Streets,” Pause said. “So if there was ever a concern or consideration that we’re anti-Complete Streets, I can definitely dispell that today.”

He spoke directly with Jessica Thompson, executive director of People for Active Transportation Hawai‘i, or PATH, and Amy Self, treasurer of the Hilo Bayfront Trails organization and vice chairperson of the county Ethics Board, who both testified during the committee’s July 5 meeting, among others, during a meeting July 14.

“We pulled together the meeting with my engineering folks and traffic folks to have a good discussion about what can be done out at Waiānuenue,” Pause said. “We had a good discussion about what our constraints are as far as the road width, the road capacity, parking spaces, especially down by the school.”

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Councilman Aaron Chung had a conversation with representatives from the state Department of Education about the parking around the three schools in the project area, including administrative offices. He said it was conveyed to him that all of the existing parking on both sides of the roadway are needed.

“They made it very clear,” Chung said. “The schools need two sides of the street parking. Having said that, if the the Department of Public Works can figure out a way to add bike lanes, then I think we’ll all be happy.”

Councilman Aaron Chung, left, speaks Tuesday during the Hawaiʻi County Council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit meeting while Councilwoman Heather Kimball listens in the Hilo Council Chambers. (Screenshot from video)

But it shouldn’t get away from the primary purpose of the project, Chung said. Waiānuenue is not a new road, it’s a defined corridor and the project was necessary to fix the roadway primarily for motorized traffic, as it was untenable to the residents, people traversing that, as well as to emergency vehicles.

Pause said the conversation he had with community members also also included talk about alternative options that might or might not be available for providing Complete Streets potentially going downhill, but not on Waiānuenue. There was discussion about improvements possibly being made on some of the side roads and adding a bike lane climbing up Waiānuenue.

“Those were good discussions,” Pause said. “Our traffic folks are continuing to work on some maps looking at alternatives, but at the end of the day, we agreed we’d take another hard look at this.”

There is another meeting planned with the community members next week.

“We did engage folks. We are trying to come up with something that will work for the community,” Pause said. “In the same light, as we go forward with other projects, I guess in this particular case there probably could have been a better job at community engagement up front before this all occurred.”

He said stakeholder management is the first aspect of a project — identifying and getting out and talking with those who will be impacted by it.

“So I can tell you whatever issues with not communicating, those things won’t happen anymore,” Pause said.

He added that the department can get better.

“I’ve been here before. I’ve told you we’re a work in progress,” Pause said. “There’s definitely room for improvement on delivering projects. But I would also just reiterate that we are for Complete Streets.”

The department will work to hopefully to resolve issues with the Waiānuenue Avenue project in a favorable way but also going forward with future projects, he told the committee.

“Thank you, Mr. Pause,” committee Chairwoman Sue Lee Loy said following the interim director’s update. “Maybe this could be an opportunity for us to broaden our discussion on a future agenda to talk about all the mechanics of the different (Statewide Transportation Improvement Program) projects that we have, along with those timelines.”

She also suggested reaching out to fellow council members about road projects in their districts and how DPW can get better when it comes to needs assessment and opportunities to do stakeholder engagement early.

“I agree,” Pause said. “There is an opportunity for us to engage stakeholders sooner in these projects. DPW can’t execute projects in a vacuum. We need to, right up front, identify key stakeholders and reach out to them.”

The $10 million Waiānuenue Avenue rehabilitation project entails cold planing, sidewalk improvements and putting down new pavement in less than a mile of the roadway between the upper side of Rainbow Drive to just mauka of Kaiulani Street.

The project began in February and was supposed to take about 260 days to complete. Pause reported Tuesday that the project is about 50%-60% finished. It has been delayed by weather and also could be impacted by the contractor now working on paving for the state’s Kalanianaʻole Street project in Hilo.

“But all in all, I think they’re making good progress,” Pause said.

Council Conducts Regular Meeting Tuesday

The county council also conducted its regular meeting Tuesday at the West Hawaiʻi Civic Center in Kona. According to Chairwoman Maile David’s office, the meeting was conducted the same day as the council’s committee meetings, taking into account other obligations of council members and to save them from having to travel two days in a row. Normally, regular council meetings are hosted the day after committee meetings. The date was noted on the posted council agenda.

During the meeting, the council:

  1. Approved Resolution 442, which requests the county Office of Housing and Community Development create and submit a plan to the council by September and annually thereafter providing a progress report on the use of funds from tier 2 residential property taxes for housing and homelessness.
  2. Approved Resolution 451, which approved the nomination of members to the National Association of Counties Board of Directors and the Western Interstate Region Board of Directors.
  3. Approved Resolution 452, which transfers $1,500 from the Council District 9 contingency relief account to be used for a grant to the Big Island Resource Conservation and Development Council for the 36th annual Big Island Pro-Am Surfing Trials.
  4. Approved Resolutions 453 and 454, which transfer $2,500 from the Council District 7 and Council District 8 contingency relief accounts, respectively, to be used for a grant to the Daughters of Hawaiʻi to assist with expenses related to preservation of the Royal Banyan Tree planted by Queen Kapiʻolani at Huliheʻe Palace in Kona.
  5. Approved Resolution 455, which transfers $1,000 from the Council District 9 contingency relief account to be used for a grant to the Grassroots Community Development Group for expenses related to the 2022 Hawaiʻi Island All Nations Powwow.
  6. Approved Resolution 456, which transfers $2,000 from the Council District 8 contingency relief account to be used for a grant to Full Life to assist with expenses related to its Aktion Club and Ola Pono Learning Center in Kona.
  7. Approved Resolution 457, which transfers $2,000 from the Council District 8 contingency relief account to be used for a grant to Special Olympics Hawaiʻi Inc. to assist with expenses related to the Special Olympics West Hawaiʻi awards recognition and sports sign-up event.
  8. Approved Resolution 458, affirming the county’s endorsement of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, urging the United States to enter into the global initiative and establish the treaty as a centerpiece of national security policy.
  9. Approved Resolution 460, allowing for the county’s receipt of $26,000 for the 2022 Fall Hawaiʻi County Food Access Summit and 2023 Summer Hawaiʻi County Food Access Summit. The council also approved the first reading of Bill 191, a companion to Resolution 460, which appropriates the $26,000 for the summits from the county’s Food Access Summit Program account.
  10. Approved Resolution 461, accepting a donation of 8,000 home COVID test kits from the state Department of Health, valued at more than $91,000, to provide testing options to low-income households, rural communities and county staff who frequently interact with members of the public.
  11. Approved Resolution 462, amending several sections of the county’s salary ordinance and increasing the affected pay grades in anticipation of the minimum wage increase that goes into effect Oct. 1.
  12. Approved the third and final reading of Bill 173, which, if approved by voters in November, would amend the county charter to add investigations of reports of fraud, waste and abuse within county operations as a function of Office of the County Auditor.
  13. Approved the third and final reading of Bill 175, which, if approved by voters in November, would amend the county charter to create a new Youth Commission in the executive branch consisting of up to 15 members between the ages of 14 and 24 years old to offer ideas and perspectives for county government.
  14. Approved the second and final reading of Bill 181, which reclassifies nearly 22 acres of agricultural land to family agricultural land in the Kaloko Mauka subdivision in Kona. The property is located along the south side of Kaloko Drive at the northeastern corner of the intersection with Hao Street.
  15. Approved the second and final reading of Bill 183, which changes the zoning from single-family residential to village commercial for 11,254 square feet of land located on a property at 16-540 Laukahi Place in Kea‘au, about 150 feet east of the intersection with Old Volcano Road, to allow for the establishment of a furniture and appliance retail outlet.
  16. Approved the second and final reading of Bill 184, which increases revenues in the real property tax account ($65,000) and appropriate the same to the grants to nonprofit organizations account to be used for additional grants-in-aid awards to nonprofits.
  17. Approved the second and final reading of Bill 185, which decreases appropriations of $3.44 million in the homeless grant-in-aid account ($260,000) and the grant to nonprofit organizations account ($3.18 million) and appropriate the same in varying amounts to 133 nonprofit grant-in-aid programs.
Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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