Longtime Kula resident Warren McCord, 79, wears many hats. He and his family have owned and run the Kula Botanical Garden since 1968. McCord, a retired Air Force officer and landscape architect, has participated in environmental activities here for decades and is president emeritus of Maui Outdoor Circle. But since 2001, the project closest to his heart has been the establishment of a Baldwin Avenue bike path.
A less persistent person might have given up long ago.
McCord said he first became interested in the project beginning in 2001, when a bike path from Pa'ia to Makawao was prepared for the county by a Honolulu engineering firm.
Longtime Kula resident Warren McCord, president emeritus of Maui Outdoor Circle, has been an advocate for the Baldwin Avenue bike path since it was first proposed in 2001. Thirteen years later, he believes the project has a broad base of support, and would like to know what is causing the delay.
He said that plan was presented to public in July of same year and reviewed by a group of interested citizen and members of the Outdoor Circle.
"The plan," he said, "proposed widening Baldwin Avenue six feet on the north side and five feet on south side. This design eliminated all the landscaping for houses on the north side and removed every shower tree on south side."
"Needless to say, this design was unacceptable," he recalled. "What came next was a proposal by the Outdoor Circle to modify the original plan. In this version, it would run from the Makawao Cemetery to the Pa'ia Gym totally off the roadway and just below the shower trees. It called for a two-way, ten-foot-wide bicycle and recreation path and would not need to remove any trees or landscape features."
The modified plan was accepted by the county soon after.
"In order to project the shower trees planted by Ethel Baldwin around 1900 and later planting by Mayor Hannibal Tavares," McCord said, "an ordinance was drafted and passed by the council, placing all the shower trees on the exceptional tree list, which gave them legal protection."
McCord said "a second plan was prepared by the same engineering firm and presented in August 2003. This plan was based on the concept of the ten-foot-wide, two-way path below the shower trees. However, it had some grading issues, and both the county and the Outdoor Circle agreed that further thought would need to be given to the area near Rainbow Park. In order to improve the design, the Maui Outdoor Circle proposed a community design review."
McCord said that for six months, "an ad hoc group consisting of owners of several of the downhill bicycle business, individual biking enthusiasts, the president of HC&S and his staff, Maui Outdoor Circle, area homeowners and the nearby Holy Rosary Catholic Church worked to refine the plan to make it safe, usable and acceptable to property owners."
The plan was then reviewed by the Maui office of the State Division of Highways, because, McCord said, "they control the STIP [Strategic Transportation Improvement Plan], which has federal highway funds available to pay for 'shovel ready' construction."
This plan was given to the Maui County Department of Public Works to be sent to a Honolulu engineering company to prepare revisions in the fall of 2004.
"County funding was not made available for this design revision," said McCord, "and then it was decided that the project should have an environmental impact study."
McCord went on to say that "A $200,000 line-item study was proposed in 2009 and approved in the county budget in 2010. Some funds went to the Honolulu firm in the fall of 2011 to prepare the study. So far, nothing further has been reported back to the public."
"Now," he said, "some 13 years have passed, and a significant amount of time and expense later, we have made no visible progress in making Baldwin Avenue a safer roadway for cars and bicycles."
"Despite various modifications and revisions, this project has always enjoyed a broad base of support for a number of reasons," said McCord. "Currently, individual bicycles and bicycles operated in larger numbers by tour groups often hold up traffic, and create dangerous situations--including several injuries and two deaths."
McCord said that in the fall of 2013, he spoke to county Public Works Director David Goode, who told him, "This project had a low priority."
During the same period, McCord also spoke with several members of the County Council, including Gladys Baisa and Mike White. But he said he is presently uncertain of the status of the project. Nor does he know precisely how much has been spent so far.
McCord recalled that "at one time, HC&S was willing to sell the entire right-of-way for very nominal sum, but that may have changed."
He also noted that the county could have obtained an easement from HC&S "which would have cost nothing."
McCord said his personal travel plans will take him off island in early January, but on his return, he intends to follow up and update the information and find out what is causing the delay.
"If the administration and/or council have objections, we like to know what they are," said McCord. "We would welcome volunteers, especially those interested in recreational bicycling and people with decent tech skills to help get the word out."
Asked for an update on the Baldwin Avenue bike path, Rod Antone, communications director for the County of Maui, responded by email. He said that according to the Public Works Department, Austin, Tsutsumi & Associates (ATA), a Honolulu engineering and surveying firm, was in the process of doing a draft environmental assessment (EA) for the bike [path] project."
"The consultant [ATA] has been gathering data and the Public Works staff has begun to analyze it, so it's a work in progress," he wrote. [There's] not much else to report at this point There will be plenty of public engagement as we move through the process, so people will have a chance to give their input."
"As far as the mayor goes," Antone's email continued, "he supports bike paths, but has said in the past that sometimes they can be tricky due to the fact that connecting bike paths sometimes involves getting state and private property owners' cooperation as well. Then, of course, there's finding funding. But everyone agrees that Maui County is a great place for biking. We just have to get the infrastructure in there."
Antone quoted Mayor Alan Arakawa as saying: "I support it in concept, but there's never been a consensus from the public as to where that bicycle path should be. We're doing the studies now, and will collect the data from the EA. We will take that data and provide it to the public, and hopefully we can find a consensus then."
Budget Director Sandy Baz also responded via email, saying, "It looks like in 2008 there was $100,000 appropriated for the bike path on Baldwin Avenue. Out of that, $60,000 was encumbered on a contract for design. The other $40,000 lapsed [is no longer available because it wasn't encumbered]. The design is ongoing as payments were [made] as late as 2013, but it is nearly all expended. For details of the project, you will need to discuss it with the Department of Public Works."
Due to the holidays, the Maui Weekly was not able to reach all the parties involved, and expects to provide a fuller picture of the status of this project in the weeks to come.