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US Transportation Secretary Buttigieg visits Maui, details millions in funding for Honoapiʻilani realignment : Maui Now

US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg met with residents of West Maui and members of Hawaiʻi’s congressional delegation on Wednesday as part of the administrationʻs efforts to reaffirm its commitment to wildfire recovery in Lahaina. During his visit, Buttigieg provided updates on key infrastructure projects, including critical investments in the Honoapiʻilani Highway.

Buttigieg said the Honoapi‘ilani Highway, which serves as the main artery between West and Central Maui, is receiving over $50 million in USDOT funds to support its realignment.

“These improvements will span over a five mile stretch from Olowalu to Ukumehame, and include moving much of the highway out of the current sea wash and future sea level rise zones,” said Maui Mayor Richard Bissen.

“From a color of money standpoint, this thing was super complicated,” said US Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaiʻi) about the Honoapi’ilani realignment. He said cobbling all the various funding together was a task in and of itself, but said the project in the end will address safety, convenience and the environment.

“This is the kind of climate adaptation that I think President Biden has been contemplating and Secretary Buttigieg has been trying to push forward on,” said Sen. Schatz. “It’s not done yet, but it’s a real triumph that we are as far along as we are in the EIS process and the construction process, and it just shows what we can all accomplish if the goals are aligned and we all behave as if we are a part of the same community,” said Sen. Schatz.

US Sen. Brian Schatz discusses federal transportation projects for Maui with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. (2.21.24) PC: Wendy Osher

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“What Maui has faced, is of course unique,” said Buttigieg, describing the Aug. 8 2023 disaster as the deadliest wildfire to strike any American community in more than a century. “The fire in Lahaina was a type of all encompassing terror that is hard to imagine, and hard to fathom for those who were not here that day. It took 101 lives, displaced thousands, and left a life-long impact on many more who lost loved ones and were displaced.”

“Just a few miles away—a very different threat is on display. Another one that you see in different forms in different places, but that is shared across different communities—which is water in the wrong places,” said Buttigieg at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. “The Honoapiʻilani Highway faces increasing erosion, sea level rise, and swells that overtop the road dozens of times per year… It’s more than an inconvenience—it keeps people from getting to work, stops people from reaching the hospital quickly, it keeps vital goods from being moved across the island, and it blocks off the road for emergency responders or evacuations,” he said.

Buttigieg said he came to Maui because its transportation needs are unique and vital to life here. “I thought it was important to see it first hand, and I wanted to make sure I could offer an update on what the federal government is doing to be a good partner in building that future of transportation on this island,” he said.

Secretary Buttigieg (left) hears from Mayor Bissen (right) about recovery work underway in Lahaina. Lahaina Advisory Committee member, Archie Kalepa (middle) met with the government leaders to continue the discussion about recovery efforts and the needs of the community. (2.21.24) PC: Office of Secretary Buttigieg.

Other federal transportation dollars for Maui

The Honoapiʻilani Highway project is also aimed at protecting the continuity of the route that supports access to West Maui. Also in West Maui, there’s $13.4 million allocated for safety improvements to Keawe Street.

Other federal transportation projects outlined include: $25 million for the extension of Waiʻale Road in Central Maui, south toward the Honoapiʻilani Highway. Mayor Bissen said that project supports additional housing in the area, and provides an alternative route between Wailuku and Kahului.

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Additional grant funding in the amount of $25 million will go toward the North-South Collector Road (Liloa Drive) in Kīhei. The funding comes from a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funded grant to improve the road and reduce dependency on vehicles.

“We look forward to continued conversations and efforts to support the needs of our wildfire recovery, and appreciate their continued support,” said Mayor Bissen of the federal presence.

(l to r) US Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawai’i Department of Transportation Director Director Edwin Sniffen, Congresswoman Jill Tokuda, and US Sen. Brian Schatz discuss federal highway projects with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (not pictured) in West Maui. (2.21.24) PC: Wendy Osher

Hawai’i Department of Transportation Director Director Edwin Sniffen said he appreciates the federal presence on Maui to see firsthand the needs of the community and the partnerships that exist. He said he hoped to convey that the infrastructure money received and the discretionary funds that Hawaiʻi can compete for, are being used to hit state and county goals.

“We’re looking at housing and homelessness; we’re looking at education and energy and food security; and we’re looking at the economy—all through infrastructure. As everyone knows here, if you want the most impact in your state, in your area… Transportation touches everything and everything touches transportation,” said Sniffen.

“Maui County has been extremely competitive in all of the processes, and the mayor outlined some of the grants received, and they’re pushing for more as well. So you’re going to see a lot more improvements in the area, not just for Lahaina, but for Maui in general,” said Sniffen.

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US Rep. Jill Tokuda spoke about a shared kuleana or responsibility to make sure Lahaina is not just rebuilt, but that there is an effort to re-envision a future where all can be connected. She reflected up on the Ho’oulu Lahaina Unity Walk, held last month.

“We understood that Lahaina, this special place that we’re in—this is the piko of Hawaiʻi. This is our center… It was as if Lahaina was calling to us—to come to this piko, to make sure that we understood the value and the opportunity in this moment that we have,” said Rep. Tokuda.

“Most importantly, it’s incumbent on us to recognize the connection that we have to each other… If it’s not for infrastructure, if it’s not for transportation, to give us hope that we can be connected, we can be stronger together—then we are lost,” said Rep. Tokuda. “Transportation gives our people hope that we can be connected.”

US Sen. Mazie Hirono (left) discusses federal highway projects with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (center) in West Maui. (2.21.24) PC: Wendy Osher

US Sen. Mazie Hirono said the one takeaway is the continuity of effort at all levels of government. “The recovery must reflect the values of the people here and we must listen to their voices,” said Sen. Hirono. “We are going to continue to work very hard to make sure that the resources continue to come to Maui… that the rebuilding happens… in a way that reflects our values and listen to the voices here.”

US Sen. Brian Schatz emphasized two positive points from today:

  • “The first is the Army Corps really is on track for clearing and making available for re-inhabiting all of the residential structures on time,” said Sen. Schatz. He called it an “enormous achievement” saying they are “not there yet, but are on track,” with the last homes to be cleared by around this time next year. “I found that to be a really encouraging thing,” he said.
  • “The second is that I’ve never heard of anything getting built in 95 days, but to get a school built in 95 days so that on April 1 these kids can go back on campus, is something worth really celebrating and being appreciative of,” said Sen. Schatz of the temporary campus under construction below the Kapalua Airport for students of Kamehameha III Elementary School.

Sen. Schatz said it’s hard to laud the accomplishments made to date when so many people are still suffering.

“Thousands and thousands of people are still having to move their life’s belongings in bags and buckets, not sure what’s going to happen next. So the last thing that I think we all need a laser focus on [is] there are lots of long lead type items… about how to build back better,” said Sen. Schatz.

“But we still have suffering to alleviate, and the best way we can alleviate that suffering is to build housing now and to not be precious about it, and not be too specific about it, and not to land exactly on the number of projected need, but to know that we are still in an emergency situation and people are still living in untenable housing,” he said. “We need to start breaking some ground, and in many cases, bring some housing off of shipping containers and just drop them onto a lot.”

On top for Thursday: Buttigieg to visit Honolulu

Secretary Buttigieg continues his visit in the islands with a stop in Honolulu on Thursday, Feb. 22. He will begin the day visiting key transportation projects, then take a harbor tour to hear about USDOT investments in the Port of Honolulu.

The visit also includes a blessing ceremony and the start of construction celebration for a project at the Kapālama Container Terminal funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  

Before departing Hawai‘i, Secretary Buttigieg will take a tour of the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport alongside Senator Schatz and Congressman Case to celebrate key projects underway at the airport, including $22 million headed to the airport announced just last week through the Airport Terminal Program.

Source: Maui News

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