Haleiwa walkway project is finally making strides
The city orders an environmental impact statement and design work for a more pedestrian-friendly town
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
A section of Kamehameha Highway passing through one of the busiest parts of Haleiwa has no sidewalks, creating challenges for pedestrians who must negotiate walkways that can be narrow and uneven. An improvement project would address the problem.
A plan to create pedestrian walkways and other improvements along the main commercial strip of historic Haleiwa is advancing four years after the city appropriated more than $2 million for the long-envisioned project.
The city recently awarded a $2.8 million contract to engineering and planning firm R.M.Towill Corp. to prepare an environmental impact statement and start design work for the estimated $24 million project.
The contract represents a major step forward for the effort aiming to make walking through Haleiwa's commercial core more inviting and safe for visitors, residents and business owners.
"We have 2 million visitors come to Haleiwa a year, and we don't have safe walkways,"said Antya Miller, executive director of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce. "Our infrastructure is substandard."
Kamehameha Highway represents "Main Street" through Haleiwa's business district, which is lined with many plantation-era buildings but lacks sidewalks or even uniform road shoulders.
The situation presents a hazard for pedestrians faced with negotiating narrow walking strips in some areas, puddles when it rains, potholes, gravel and parked cars.
"The environment is not good," said Marianne Abrigo, a 46-year North Shore resident who has operated a real estate brokerage firm on Haleiwa's main street since 1974. "This project has become a health and safety issue. We have (roadside) pukas and water. It's kind of dangerous."
Under the improvement plan, a roughly 1-mile stretch of the highway between Opaeula Stream bridge near McDonald's makai of the Weed Circle roundabout and the Anahulu River bridge near the ocean would be upgraded with walkways, landscaping, underground utilities and turn-of-the-century-style streetlamps. To maintain the rural character of the area, the walkways will not have curbs and gutters.
"We didn't want to urbanize the town," Miller said, noting that Haleiwa, which was established in the late 1800s as an outcrop of the plantation community centered in neighboring Waialua, is a special historic design district.
The historic designation has presented some challenges for the project butting up against city design standards. This issue, along with three mayoral changes since the improvement district money was appropriated, have bogged down implementation of the plan.
Some challenges also still lie ahead.
One issue is how to ensure adequate parking. Some businesses use road shoulder areas for customer parking and could be loath to give up the convenience.
Supporters of the improvement project expect that a solution can be found, perhaps by centralizing parking behind some commercial areas.
Ed D'Ascoli, a businessman who founded wet-suit maker Xcel on the North Shore in 1982, said creating ample off-street parking similar to what exists in Kaimuki will encourage people to walk the town rather than driving to one location, getting back in their cars and leaving.
"A successful retail zone is where people are walking by shops," he said. "The more, the better."
Another potential issue is sharing improvement costs. The project area has been designated an improvement district under city ordinance. This setup calls for the city to float bonds to finance the improvements, and the bonds would be paid off by owners of land fronting the improvement zone, the city and Hawaiian Electric Co.
About 30 landowners would be affected. Most are small businesses that project organizers say would share a relatively small amount of the cost. Kamehameha Schools owns about half the land fronting the improvement district and is supportive of the project. There also are some residential and church property owners.
Project organizers said it may be possible to obtain private or federal grant money to cover or reduce some landowner costs.
One previous estimate is that the unsubsidized cost for a landowner with 100 linear feet fronting the highway would be $34,000. Spread over a 20-year bond, that cost would be roughly $1,200 a year including interest.
Project supporters contend that such an investment will pay off as more pedestrians are attracted to the area, thus increasing business.
Construction is possibly about two years away if the environmental study and design work are completed without delay. The Towill contract, however, provides only about 60 percent of the estimated cost to complete design work, so the balance is expected to be sought from the city.
If the work gets done, it would realize a more than 20-year-old goal for community leaders.
Sidewalks were a main component of a 1991 town improvement master plan published by the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, then known as the Haleiwa Main Street Association.
The initiative to make Haleiwa town a more attractive stop was elevated with construction of Haleiwa Bypass Road, which opened in 1995, out of concern that visitor traffic in town would decline.
The association worked with the city to develop and execute an improvement plan, but a contract to start construction was canceled in 2005 after some businesses objected to a city provision for parallel street parking that would have reduced parking for some businesses with head-in stalls.
Later attempts to obtain funding from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and state Legislature were made to rework the plan but were not successful.
D'Ascoli called the town improvement project a "long time coming" and said it will set the ambience and business success of Haleiwa for the rest of this century.
"We are fortunate," he said, "to have a unique opportunity to take the best of historical Haleiwa and enhance it with safe country walkways, underground wires and ample off-street parking for everyone including tour buses to take a stroll through town enjoying the most unique country atmosphere and shopping experience on Oahu."
Printed in the Star Advertiser on July 7, 2014