By MEGAN MOSELEY
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Construction on Kilauea Avenue is putting a damper on the holiday season for local businesses and one 80-year-old couple who crashed their vehicle into a hole in the road Tuesday.
Hilo resident Robert Meek, 86, said he was driving with his wife, Lori, when they proceeded to take a wrong turn near the Aupuni Street intersection.
“I was driving toward a doctor’s appointment, for my heart nonetheless, and it looked like the cones were marked to make a left turn,” Meek said. “So, I mistakenly went in between the cones, luckily I was going slow, and next thing I know my left wheel dropped down.”
The accident happened after construction reduced traffic to one lane in the Puna direction (southbound) near the Aupuni Street intersection and ending at the south end of the Wailoa/Waiakea Stream Bridge. Cones surrounded a large hole located in the middle of the road at the time of the accident, but the Meeks claim “there weren’t enough.”
“If they would have had more cones, this wouldn’t have happened,” Robert Meek said.
“We have had a lot of people there, on Facebook and people behind us that felt it wasn’t marked good enough,” Lori Meek said.
Noelani Whittington, public information and education specialist at County of Hawaii Department of Public Works, declined to comment on the incident.
Public Works Director Warren Lee made the following repsonse: “The work zone was in place with traffic cones and no-left-turn signage. The mauka parking and travel lane were being used as a temporary travel lane, Puna bound, and the left-turn pocket into Aupuni Street was coned off.”
Nearby business owners are also questioning the organization of the project.
Tom Fedenuik, owner of Just Cruisin Coffee, said he was made aware construction would be occurring near his 835 Kilauea Ave. business more than a month ago, but didn’t anticipate it would have such damaging effects on his business during the holiday season.
“Why the weeks before Christmas? I know it’s not their job to think about us, but it should be,” he said. “I’m trying to stay positive, but there’s got to be a better way.”
Lee said the work was needed “due to the condition of the road” and to “minimize impact on Chiefess Kapiolani School session.” The timing was also intended to avoid overlapping schedules with the Kamehameha Avenue Reconstruction project, which starts early next year.
“The Kamehameha Avenue reconstruction project is between Ponahawai Street to the King Kamehameha statue area. If both projects were to occur simultaneously, traffic to and from downtown would be impacted. If Kilauea was delayed, then it would be about a year and a half before road reconstruction on Kilauea would take place,” he said.
Lee also said the county made modifications to “lessen the impact on businesses.”
But the impact is still felt by Fedenuik and several other businesses trying to stay positive while lack of public access and parking have caused a reduction in overall sales.
Rhonda Nichols, owner of the Hilo Burger Joint, said her sales have “been cut in half.”
“It just seems a little insensitive to not take into consideration the time of the year for this type of construction,” she said.
Nichols, Fedenuik and several other business owners on Kilauea Avenue are taking a proactive approach by planning joint sales events and working together to spread the word that their doors are still open.
As for the Meeks, they’re just trying to get through the holiday season.
“I’m thinking about how I can get out and shop for the holidays because right now, I can’t really do anything,” Lori Meek said.
Email Megan Moseley at email@example.com.