What once was barely a 3-minute drive from Olomana Golf Course to Waimanalo Town Center has turned into 40 minutes of stop-and-go traffic for Monique Mook.

Since phase 2 of the Kalanianaole Highway improvements began in January, the $15.3 million project has cost local residents and businesses both time and money.

Mook, who works at Hawaiian Island Cafe in Waimanalo Town Center, said the cafe has lost around 30% of its business due to the ongoing road work, and she has been late to the cafe several times after dropping her daughter off at Kailua High School.

“We have regulars who don’t have that much time for their lunch break that will call and ask if the road work is bad,” Mook said. “Because they don’t want to sit in traffic and wait to come down here.”

Waimanalo Road Work
Department of Transportation officials say Kalanianaole Highway improvements will be “substantially completed” by the end of this year. Alicia Lou/Civil Beat/2022

The project includes improvements from Poalima Street to the vicinity of Makai Pier, and the district of Koolaupoko.

So far, paving on Kalanianaole Highway from Makai Pier to Bell Street has been completed, as well as installations of new concrete sidewalks, curbs and gutters on the mauka side of the highway from Inoaole Street to Poalima Street.

Currently, workers are reconstructing pavement from Kaiona Beach Park to Aloiloi Street, and installing a new drainage system from Moole Street to Tinker Road. New safety features have also been added to the scope, such as raised pedestrian crosswalks and extended pavement.

The state expects the project to be done by the end of the year, but local residents are already uneasy.

Lani Ahuna, a 77-year-old resident of Kulanakauhale in Waimanalo, a rental development for Native Hawaiian kupuna, said many of the residents have not wanted to leave the facility since the road work began.

“People are too afraid to cross the road,” Ahuna said. “So what they’re doing is catching the bus, but it has such a horrendous schedule because of the traffic … So you’re just left waiting all the time.”

“How do we cope with this?” Ahuna asked. “Why can’t they save it for midnight on or something, when traffic is less? … I don’t know what the solution is.”

 

Road Work Waimanalo
Residents of Waimanalo are growing weary of the ongoing construction. Alicia Lou/Civil Beat/2022

While people struggle to get around or simply don’t want to venture into the congestion, businesses in the area say they are suffering.

Kat Moon, operations manager at Kalapawai Market, said sales at the Waimanalo location are down at least 20%, and Cristine Grace, the manager at Kalapawai, said members of her staff have been 30 to 45 minutes late to work due to traffic created by the road work. On slower days, Grace has had to send them home.

Kalapawai Market first opened in Kailua in 1932, before it expanded to three more locations. The Waimanalo location opened in December 2020, and served hundreds of meals a day at the time.

Though both their business and staff have been affected, Moon said she would not be adjusting business hours. “The company has been established for long enough that we’ve weathered the storm a few times over,” Moon said. “We are a little more comfortable with it, and we would rather stay consistent in being available for the community.”

However, unlike Hawaiian Island Cafe and Kalapawai Market, which are both familiar businesses in the local community, Beastside Kitchen, a curbside eatery in Waimanalo that has only been open since September 2021, is still trying to make a name for itself.

James Kiko left the bar and restaurant industry after 16 years when pandemic restrictions whittled down his hours, and started Beastside Kitchen.

“We were finally getting some traction and then they started the road work,” Kiko said. “I used to have a line of workers that would drive here to have lunch, but they stopped coming after traffic got really bad.”

Road Work Waimanalo
Will a new business survive the effects of ongoing road work? Alicia Lou/Civil Beat/2022

Beastside Kitchen is currently open seven days a week, but Samuel Allen, Kiko’s business partner, said they may need to shut down a few days or even a week due to road work, because they’re losing money and wasting fried chicken and slow-smoked brisket by opening.

“For a small business that’s just starting to take off, a few days of no sales can have huge effects,” Allen said. “We could lose out on thousands of dollars in business.”

“From looking at our sales patterns  — you can see on the weekends when there’s no road work, our sales are not only much higher but also more consistent,” Allen said, adding that the road work felt like a “no-win situation,” because there’s either an overflow of traffic but people are stuck in their cars, or, there’s no traffic because people are too worried about getting stuck. Either way, they don’t see the same number of customers.

Kiko, whose three children all attend Waimanalo Elementary, a little over half-a-mile from Beastside Kitchen, said picking his kids up after school turned into a 45-minute ordeal due to traffic, finally forcing him to allow his children to walk to the back roads where he meets them instead.

Kiko, who was born, raised and currently resides in Waimanalo near most of his family, said he’s not the only one in town that thinks road work could be done in the evening, and that the state shouldn’t have simultaneously started on both sides of Kalanianaole Highway.

Shelly Kunishige, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, said night work is usually only done in less populated areas that don’t directly impact homes, as the reconstruction of concrete sidewalks involve digging up the top four inches of asphalt, which can be disruptive during late hours.

Marvin Luckfield, resident engineer at the Department of Transportation, said in an email, “We have asked the contractor to give all businesses and homeowners affected by the construction in the project area ample notice of when there will be work … And to make sure to maintain access 24/7. The contractor also hires several special duty police officers daily to help mitigate traffic and for motorist and pedestrian safety.”

Junior Fitiausi, the supervisor for MIRA Image Construction at the Waimanalo site, who has been working in construction since 2005, said working at night is also less safe for workers. “Night work — we do it if we have to,” he said. “At night there’s drunk drivers you have to worry about and police cars and stuff like that.”

“Hopefully we finish before the end of the year and everything moves smoothly, because for us too, we don’t want to prolong anything, the longer you prolong, the more money” it costs, Fitiausi said.

Still, residents and business owners believe the road work impacts on traffic could have been avoided.

“Waimanalo is basically a two-lane-town where you can come in from either side of the island,” Kiko said. “But by working on both ends, they completely shut down the town … Road work has to be done, but they could have done it a better way.”

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