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Friday, 4 – 5 PM: Stuck Between Lahaina and Kihei
July 12, 2014 - Ray Tsuchiyama
I had heard about the sudden mass traffic pile-ups along the highway to Lahaina from Kihei, but I did not experience it first-hand until yesterday late afternoon.
In retrospect, the slowing of traffic by the time I reached the one-lane highway just around Maalaea as I entered from Keahuilani highway in early afternoon should have been a warning, but I thought it was just Friday afternoon traffic, not an indication of what was to come later.
After a meeting in Kaanapali, I suddenly thought to mail my postcard to a dedicated son of a former colleague now in U.S. Army basic training in Ft. Benning, Georgia – so I turned leftward into the Lahaina Post Office, atop a knoll overlooking Honoapiilani Highway. When I opened the blue Post Office Mailbox, there was a four-inch gecko that darted away – again, a sign of something going-to-happen.
I should have not turned in – five precious minutes wasted.
I did another time-waster by driving into Keawe Street (good name, after the pointy bush) and the Lahaina Gateway Mall and browsing the bookstands at Barnes and Nobles. In hindsight, another bad idea. If my home was in Lahaina or Launuipoko or even Napili, that would have been a nice 30-minute diversion from work issues, but I had to return to my home in North Kihei.
The sun was very hot as I walked out of the cool Barnes and Noble bookstore (sadly, now the only “real” comprehensive bookstore in entire tri-isle Maui County), and turned my car engine on. I called my wife and said I would be home in about 30 minutes, 40 minutes “with traffic”. Instead, it would be a tortuous 1 hour and 10 minutes by the time I reached home – a distance of 21 miles on Google Maps.
For the first few miles through Honoapiilani Highway, it was stop-and-go traffic. For the blinking speed-measuring lights that compares your driving speed to the “25 Miles Per Hour Speed Limit”, I did not have to brake as I was already crawling at barely 10 miles an hour.
I seemed to be part of a car caravan snaking along, and a few miles out again, I saw on my rear mirror a huge yellow Maui County fire truck, followed by another car blaring a siren, and I turned on the road. This incident occurred way before the cool shady trees of Olowalu, so I was barely outside Lahaina, perhaps even before Launuipoko State Park.
It was stop-and-go traffic along the desert-like hills, then even more slowing down along the beachfront, where people had tents and were looking at the cars. One biker overtook the cars on a narrow strip on my right, not a good idea if a car suddenly turned to park.
To make this traffic story shorter, after the wending hilly area beyond Papalaua State Park, I saw stopped traffic, and slowed down again: there was a battered green truck in the middle of the To-Lahaina lane, and no one was behind the steering wheel – the truck engine had stopped just in time for the 5 PM Go-Back-To-The-West-Side-Rush, and behind the truck as the traffic started to move on my lane, there were about three – four miles of stalled traffic, full of cars, trucks, taxis, buses, and hotel shuttle vans.
Nearing Maalaea, I saw a big SUV turning around on the middle grassy area and trying to merge with the To-Kihei traffic. Not a great idea, but I could sympathize with the driver. It was a good thing my air-conditioning was working as I turned, finally, onto North Kihei Road and to a far-less crowded road.
I don’t know what happened to the drivers stuck on the highway before the wending hills, but I was glad I did not stay even longer in Lahaina, given the nervous gecko’s warning.
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