Maui mayor proposes rental car tax to pay for road repair

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KAANAPALI, Hawaii -- Maui Mayor James Apana said he plans to introduce a bill in Hawaii's upcoming legislative session which would tax Maui rental cars and commercial buses to raise money for the repair of the Honoapiilani Highway that leads into the Lahaina and Kaanapali resort areas.

After praising visitor bureau members for working to overcome visitor industry anemia after Sept. 11 and to educate visitors following an outbreak of dengue fever, Apana said, "Now we need to work on our infrastructure. One thing we haven't been able to overcome is how we solve our traffic problem, which is our worst problem."

Accidents on the two-lane highway often close the road in both directions for hours at a time, stranding visitors on their way to the airport or their hotels. There is no alternate route that will get visitors where they are going in a reasonable amount of time.

"We're starting to see a lot of conventions not wanting to come to west Maui because we can't guarantee the road will be open for people to get to and from the airport," Apana said.

A section of the road where some accidents occur is "falling into the ocean," he added.

The road is on state land, and the state is responsible for repairs, Apana said. But if Maui waits for the state to make the highway's repair and widening a priority, he said, the work will never get done.

Instead, a year-old task force introduced the bill, which would give the county the power to move the road farther inland and widen it to cut down on the number of accidents.

Apana said private landowners in the area already have volunteered to give some of their land for the road.

"We have two choices," he said. "We can hope the state fixes our road and, by the time that happens, lose our standing in the visitor industry, or we can fix it ourselves."

The problem with closures of the road is not a new one.

Even as far back as 1999, Maui police chief Tom Phillips told Travel Weekly, "There's more traffic on the roads here than we've ever had, and the highways haven't changed in 30 years. There's so much traffic now [on the Honoapiilani Highway] that even minor accidents cause an hour or an hour-and-a-half backup."

Although the distance from the airport to resorts on the west side of the island is relatively short -- 27 miles to Lahaina, 31 miles to Kaanapali and 38 miles to Kapalua -- the trip often takes hours when there is a traffic problem.

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