It may not have been painted ponies on a carousal of time as Joni Mitchell sings in "The Circle Game," but there were cars, a bicycle and even the occasional motorcycle going round and round through the newly completed roundabout on a sunny Monday afternoon on April 9 in Kihei.
Mayor Alan Arakawa welcomed the $2 million project as a better way to improve Maui's traffic system.
The roundabout itself accounted for $1.5 million of the cost with an additional $500,000 to complete the adjoining bike path.
A bike rider enjoys the Kihei Roundabout on Monday morning, April 9. The car in the background is heading toward South Kihei Road on the portion of the roundabout
that was allowing traffic flow west before the official opening of the $2 million project at 12:35 p.m.
Photo: Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez
The roundabout is actually the third to be built on Maui. There are two mini-roundabouts on private retail property. The roundabout at Pi'ikea Avenue and Liloa Drive in Kihei is the first built by the county on public land.
It's a full-size roundabout able to handle a big truck and full-sized Maui busses. The speed limit is 15 mph.
"Roundabouts are one of the systems we use nationally and internationally, and Kihei has been chosen as a site to do an experimental roundabout," the mayor said in comments before the blessing ceremony conducted by Kahu Alalani Hill. "If roundabouts work successfully and we can get people to use them, this may be the innovation we need to be able to speed traffic flow in a safer manner."
"It's important for us to try some things even though it's a little bit different, " the mayor added.
At the blessing, David Goode, director of the county Department of Public Works, enjoyed what few government officials are able to do--expressing his pleasure that the project had finished ahead of schedule and relatively on budget.
"We had anticipated a finish date of June, and the contractor was able to get it done a little quicker," Goode said. "We have a little punch list of work to do, but nothing so major that we couldn't get it open and get traffic back to normal or even better than normal."
"As to budget, it basically came in right on budget," Goode said.
"This is two major arterials--Pi'ikea Avenue and Liloa Drive--that need to accommodate all kinds of traffic," Goode said.
Goode cautioned Maui drivers to remember that "If you stop, you are going to back things up. I know it's the Maui way to stop and let people in, but you have the right-of-way once you're inside, and you yield only when entering the roundabout."
George Rixey, an architect on Maui, has been an advocate of roundabouts for 10 years or more.
"I can't tell you how excited I am," Rixey said. "I am so stoked to see this happening for Kihei. For Kihei, it has always been a struggle trying to have a sense of identity, a sense of place. And this roundabout, I think, is one of the major components to give Kihei that. It's in a major central area for the commercial district of Azeka, and it's going to flourish. I hope it is just the first of many for Kihei."
Responding to doubts about the value of the roundabout, Rixey said he understood the concerns.
"It's like so many other things," Rixey said. "It's new. It's different. People are kind of hesitant for change. You can't blame them for being on Maui--for being hesitant of change--because of so many things that have happened the wrong way. This is the right change. This is the right thing. It's going to be awesome."
South Maui County Councilmember Don Couch agreed with Rixey.
"I can't wait for the day--which will be really soon--when everybody is calling up and saying 'When can we have our roundabout?'" said Couch. "I really anticipate that happening, and I anticipate it very soon."
Mayor Arakawa was behind the wheel of the first car to drive the Kihei Roundabout at Pi'ikea Avenue and Liloa Drive, followed by Couch in his environmentally friendly Toyota Prius.
Couch emphasized, "When you are inside the roundabout, don't stop--keep going--even if you are lost go back around. You can't go too far if you are staying inside."
And if you do get "lost?" If traveling at the speed limit, it takes only 15.7 seconds to make a complete circle on the new roundabout.
For more information on how to navigate a roundabout, search for "roundabout" on YouTube, or on the Maui Weekly Web version of this article, click on www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNN_3G8f5ns&context=C4c951aaADvjVQa1PpcFNuIuTDHygBr96aGH4KgMMAp45bFpMPj7s=