Puna News — Roundabouts Considered For The Kea’au-Pahoa Road Improvement Project

Keaau Junction(A version of this story appears in the Nov. 4, 2009 edition of the Big Island Weekly.)

By Tiffany Edwards Hunt

The darkening sky highlights the stream of headlights that stretch along Highway 130 from the Humane Society to the Kea’au High School football stadium.  It’s the evening of Oct. 21 in Puna at the bottleneck, and the Kea’au=Pahoa Advisory Group is on a field trip with Department of Transportation (DOT) officials, SSFM consultants, and roundabout consultant Michael Wallwork, of the Australia-based Alternate Street Designs.

Wallwork, set to offer state officials and consultants a recommendation on how roundabouts can aid key intersections along Highway 130, gets a good look of the problem before heading to the Kea’au Elementary School cafeteria to make a presentation.

While hundreds are lined up in their vehicles on the highway a stone’s throw away, just a few regulars are at the meting in which Wallwork provides the KPAG group, transportation officials, consultants details on how roundabouts can aid in traffic flow and efficiency.kpag 1“Change is slow, even for us, maybe even especially for us, but we are considering (roundabouts),” Jiro Sumada, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation tells the small crowd when introducing Wallwork as the guest speaker.

Roundabouts are “an island you have to drive around,” which can be big or small, “plain or pretty,” with unusual shapes and landscaping, containing trees, clocks, even statues, Wallwork describes. He notes there are “less conflict points,” or areas susceptible to a car crash, illustrating with a diagram how there are 32 conflict points at an intersection and only eight on a roundabout.

“There are no left-turn or t-bone crashes, which are typical for an intersection,” Wallwork says.

Many towns and cities worldwide are replacing signalized intersections with roundabouts — like Victoria, Aus., which replaced all its intersection with roundabouts, and La Jolla, Calif., which installed five roundabouts to lower speeds and facilitate bicyclists and pedestrians and “turned an ugly road into a pretty road,” Wallwork says.

“Your presentation tonight is really educating me on roundabouts,” KPAG member Manny Mattos tells Wallwork.  He isn’t the only one in the group that finds Wallwork’s presentation favoring roundabouts convincing.

kpag 5KPAG members Hunter Bishop, the mayor’s public information officer, and Neil Erickson, a Hilo architect, were both persuaded.

Erickson tells Wallwork he came to the KPAG group as a cycling advocate and noted Highway 130 is a highway in which people “don’t want to slow down.”

“One of the biggest reasons why people don’t like roundabouts is that you have to slow down,” Wallwork reasons.  “Consider an intersection where you have to stop.  With a roundabout, it’s only for a few seconds, and you feel a lot better because you’re moving, rather than staying static at a stop light.”

“During your presentation, I sketched a whole bunch for Downtown Hilo,” Erickson says, adding, “I like the idea for in town.”

“I like the idea of roundabouts,” Bishop says after the meeting. “They may be solutions for some intersections.  It’s definitely the solution for Old Government Road and Kahakai Boulevard.”

KPAG and DOT’s effort to improve 9.5 miles of Highway 130, otherwise known as Kea’au-Pahoa Road, comes as a result of a complaint made to the Federal Highways Administration by a group of Puna residents who felt tax dollars were not being spent equitably nor were solutions being sought from the people affected by the road improvements, according to Ginny Aste, who was among the group and a co-author of the 1993 Puna Community Development Plan that highlight Puna’s traffic problems.

Sumada says a little over $1.7 million is being spent on the Kea’au-Pahoa Road Improvements Project, including:

— $250,000 for “context sensitive solution,” which means the KPAG group working with SSFM consultants

—     $203,000 for “alternatives analysis”

—      $180,000 for a topographic survey

—     $160,000 for preliminary engineering

—     $451,780 for technical studies such as traffic, air, noise, cultural, botany, hydrology, and social impacts

—     $250,000 for the draft environmental assessment and associated public hearings

—     $217,220 for the final environmental assessment

“It doesn’t seem like they’re moving fast enough,” Bishop says of DOT officials and consultants working for them.  He has been involved with the KPAG group since February.  KPAG has held eight meetings since last fall, according to Sumada.

“I hate to say that, but when you’re talking about safety and traffic in your neighborhood, Bishop says, conceding, “They’re not ignoring us, we got their attention.  They’re more aware of the problem than they ever have been.  I look forward to the county and state working together.  I would encourage more cooperation between the state and county.”

KeaauPahoaMapv2Indeed, talking with KPAG members Oct. 21, Sumada alludes to the fact that the county and state are not the only ones not communicating as well as they could be..  Sumada tells the KPAG group that the Engineering Division has twice asked the Traffic Division to participate in KPAG meetings on Highway 130, and both times did not get a response.

Meanwhile, while there is some information about the Kea’au-Pahoa Road Improvements Project posted on the internet at keaau-pahoa.com, the greater Puna community appears to be unaware that an improvement project is underway and taking public input.

At least two Puna women aren’t aware of the KPAG group, the Oct. 21 bus ride and meeting in Kea’au, or the $1.7 million to come up with an improvement plan.

“I think they should put in roundabouts,” says stay-at-home mom Emi Leatherman Hunt, before learning the Oct. 21 KPAG meeting she missed included a roundabout presentation.  “They are so much easier and I think the cost of putting them in would be a lot less than making a frontage road and trying to put in signal lights.  It keeps the traffic flowing. They’ve existed for centuries in Europe, and they work fabulously.”

“They should have thought about infrastructure before HPP blew up, because a majority of the traffic morning and night is coming from HPP,” says Felicia Frazer-Harms, an Aloha Coast Realtor, upon learning about DOT’s improvement project and the Oct. 21 meeting she missed.

She notes DOT’s first priority should be a roundabout or signal light at “the Malama Market intersection,” where Pahoa Village Road and Highway 130 intersect.

The second priority should be mitigating the bottleneck at the Highway 130 and Kea’au=Pahoa Road intersection, Frazer-Harms suggests, noting a reversible lane should be implemented on weekdays to eliminate the bottleneck. “Someone needs to go out there with the orange cones every morning and every night” to change the traffic pattern on that road like they do for Waianuenue Avenue in Hilo on school days, she says.

Frazer-Harms also suggests DOT “extend the double lane from Shower Drive to the Maku’u entrance of HPP” and “make more right-hand and left-hand turn lanes or make existing ones longer, so you can ease on and off the highway easier.”

Bishop notes that there are “simpler solutions than lights at every corner” and that it is not feasible to put in signal lights at every intersection along the highway.

Erickson says roundabouts-versus-signalization is a minor detail in the improvement project. KPAG, DOT and SSFM consultants need to set in stone which intersections will have a signal light or roundabout, and proceed with getting the environmental assessment completed.

“Money is earmarked for this project,” Erickson says.  “If we don’t spend it, we lose it.  I don’t think state Highways would give a damn.”

“Time is of the essence,” says Bishop. “Accidents happen everyday.”

60 replies
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  1. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    Some discussion at damontucker.com re roundabouts.

    Here are two good YouTube videos linked there:

    This one specifically about Hawaii and the success of a roundabout …


    This one with the Mayor of Carmel, Indiana where a comprehensive roundabout program has been proven to save the city government and local drives money with less cost for emergency services, less fuel consumption, less cost than for installing and maintaining signals, less electricity usage, and better traffic flow:

  2. hpp
    hpp says:

    Still you ignore the “PUNA DRIVING PUBLIC” you won’t train them over night, it will take years, thanks for the inconvience in the mean time.

    Then when/if you train the population to use them, it will only take one tourist from Utah with no circles driving S L O W L Y R O U N D T H E C I R C L E, S L O W I N G E V E R Y O N E E L S E D O W N.

    THERE ARE 4 surrounding 20 ACRES TRACTS two on either side of RAILROAD ave., IN HPP that SIT unused that would be perfect park and ride locations. Maybe a coffee shack and a newspaper stand? I’d love to ride the “Street Car Named Paradise”.

    I-30 will be NO QUICK FIX
    R/R could begin resurection at anytime.

  3. hpp
    hpp says:

    Tif, “No, hpp, this is not an interstate. This is a highway, and if I have my druthers, a parkway. Slow down, this ain’t the mainland. Yes, let them drive around in circles if they can’t figure out the basics of a roundabout.”

    Not an interstate of course, we aren’t connected to any. My label is due to the speeds poeple are going when they pass me over double yellow lines to get home.

    I can’t keep up with them, my cars being two 25+ year old benz’s and a 75+ year old truck. I haven’t driven on the mainlaind in over a dozen years, can imagine how stupid it’s gotten, if the trickle effect are these JOB drivers since da boom.

    I’d like less not more.

    I don’t drive I-30 during commute hours, school bus hours or after dark. And certainly don’t go out and play with those young DUI drivers on the weekends.

    Ainaloa intersection, besides being the only location of a car-jacking I’ve ever heard of on the island, had two fatalities this year.

    There is at least 1 accident per month at this intersection. May 31, 2009 a father (36) and son (7) lost their lives at this intersection. They can put a light in NOW, if there was enough public demand.

    Want to HELP instead of just complain? Sign a petition.
    Right here, right NOW.


  4. Stan Thompson
    Stan Thompson says:

    Google “hydrolley” (hydrogen powered ‘trolley’).

    Carbon-free, renewably produced hydrogen is likely to power the newest streetcars in North America.

    In Asia and Europe, the large existing fleets of overhead wire trolleys/trams can (and will) be modified to avoid the overhead wire by storing electric power on board in batteries and/or supercapacitors, replenished at passenger stops.

    But in the US and Canada where few urban rail vehicles now exist, this crypto-catenary last hoorah for external power will be leapfrogged in favor of new hydrolleys–built new to run wire-free on battery-dominant hydrogen fuel cell powertrains, almost identical to those now powering hydrogen buses around the world. Think: the high-density, sprawl-fighting, tax base building potential of urban rail, using only 1/7 the energy per passenger of rubber-tire buses:




    Google “‘stan thompson’ + hydrail” for the larger picture. Coincidentally, I’ll be on the Big Island vacationing sometime in January, 2010

  5. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    ‘Hydrail’ would appear to have a lot of potential.

    However, for Puna, the cost per passenger remains a concern.

    The Puna Community Development Plan, used “Growth indicators” to measure existing conditions, inventory opportunities and constraints, identify issues, and determine future growth” and projected Puna’s population, now 30,000, to reach 80,162 by 2030. Some people say it could be higher, even 250,000 if every lot had a house on it.

    Still Puna would have a population smaller than cities mentioned in the links.

    A smaller population raises the cost per passenger since most of the total cost is in overhead for construction and equipment.

    Certainly, getting rid of the wires reduces the cost of rail construction. The wires are one, but not the only reason, a bus guide way is so much less expensive than a rail bed with wires.

    Buses can also be (and already are) powered by hydrogen.

    As for “energy per passenger” — and also total cost per passenger, including rail or guideway construction and vehicles — the calculation is done based on the number of passengers which is derived from a portion of the total population. More passengers makes for lower cost per passenger; fewer passengers makes for higher cost per passenger.

    Charlotte, North Carolina is the lead city in the USA with ‘hydrolley’. Shanghai is using the technology in China.

    “The population of Charlotte is approximately 610,949 (2005).” source: http://www.usacitiesonline.com/nccountycharlotte.htm#statistics

    The population of Shanghai is 14,173,000 according to http://www.worldatlas.com/citypops.htm.

    Stan, look forward to seeing you in January. Look at my website, get my email and contact me.

  6. hpp
    hpp says:



    I’ve been told by a couple road managers ago I’ll never see my road paved, but he was fired. So do I believe him?

    A train is a dream, excuse me but that what I do, not all of my dreams come true. My future vision of Puna is nothing like what it’s going to be. Money didtates that, not design, planning, or the path paved with good intensions.

    Anyone take the time to drive down 15th between paradise and Makuu? See what you street will look like when “same old same old ” style of operations that continue to happen in Puna . especially HPP

    evryone is doing fuel cells. Some taking buses off rubber and putting them on steel wheels!

  7. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:


    Me, like trains? Sure. Earlier this year I travelled by train from Syracuse, NY to Chicago, IL to Fulton, KY back to Chicago, IL to Seattle, WA.

    Trains are great — where there is enough population to pay for them. Until someone puts real figures — construction costs, equipment costs, operating costs — to the Puna situation, I remain doubtful it is feasible here. And, that will have to include the cost of putting a train into an existing city (Hilo) where there is not train — a very disruptive and expensive proposition.

  8. Stan Thompson
    Stan Thompson says:

    Dr. James Wetherford, I tried to locate your web site to contact you but could not. If you’ll go the the U of NC’s hydrail site, http://www.hydrail.org, you can find mine easily. I’d really like to correspond with you about the economics of hydrolleys, which are very close to being hydrogen buses on rails. It may be that the energy savings of rail (1/7th that of rubber) might offset any construction cost advantage a Bus Rapid Transit route. From the Green angle, Denmark has looked at a dedicated wind turbine powering two hydrail trains…absolutely carbon free and renewable.

  9. hpp
    hpp says:

    the train went all the way to town via rail road AVE,
    Hilo will grow, will it get as big as, Pearl City?
    “it” will be an inconvience to do anything, but a bigger one if we do nothing.
    Cheaper now, than in the future, plan ahead…
    The next couple real estate ballons may build Hpp out.
    Better to build before it gets too densely populated, which will just mean more difficulty with easements.

    When they first built the Golden Gate Bridge it wasn’t automatically filled, and they didn’t have rush hour, but it’s a good thing there were a few guys around who could foresee what was to come.

    Stan I went to the link you have there and noticed the Riverfront trolly, which is exactly what I could see doing really well here for this application of residential here/work there, hpp-hilo. how about a mass….. CAR-LESS-COMMUTE?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] I tried to call Brennon after getting a copy of the letter at issue today. He didn’t return my call. Haven’t heard from Ed Sniffen since we met at a recent Hawaiian Paradise Park meeting, although I invited him to come to a Mainstreet Pahoa Assiciation meeting. Jiro, I haven’t seen or heard from since the last Keaau-Pahoa Road Improvement Project meeting… […]

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