By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Vandals have removed stop signs at the “Four Corners” intersection in lower Puna five times over the past five weeks, and Councilman Fred Blas is worried that someone will be injured — or worse.
“It’s dangerous. It’s really an issue because of all the population growth down here,” Blas said Tuesday afternoon.
Peter Noyes, the signs and markings supervisor for the county’s Public Works Traffic Division, said stop signs at the intersection of state Highways 132, also known as Kapoho Road, and 137, also known as the Red Road, were uprooted on April 16, 17, 21, 25 and May 19. He said stop signs at that intersection have been stolen five times and pulled out 11 times in the past three years.
“People don’t typically really understand how serious the situation is when these get pulled out. It’s just kind of a prank; they think it’s funny,” Noyes said. “I went down there one day to investigate and a van with some women pulled up and they rolled down their window and said, ‘Hey, what’s the deal with the stop signs down here?’ … It’s enough that the residents know what’s going on.”
Blas, who represents lower Puna, said there have been “a lot of community complaints about people speeding down there.”
“We go to the police, but they really can’t enforce it because there’s no speed limit or stop signs down there,” he said. Calls by the Tribune-Herald to Puna Patrol Division Tuesday afternoon were not returned.
Noyes called the signs “a pretty critical traffic control device” and referred to a 1997 incident in Florida where two men and a woman in their early 20s were each sentenced to 15 years in prison for manslaughter when three teenagers were killed in a crash a few hours after a stop sign had been uprooted at an intersection.
“The signs are there for a reason,” he said. “The people who take the signs out don’t realize it could be their own aunty or their own sister who gets injured.”
The rural junction, which is a three-way stop, has a potential for danger under the best of circumstances. There are stop signs in both directions on Route 137 and also where a gravel road meets Red Road. However, drivers coming down the hill on Route 132 aren’t required to stop when the pavement comes to an abrupt end at Red Road. Noyes said he’s not a traffic engineer, but opined the lack of a stop sign at the end of Kapoho Road is “one of the biggest problems.”
“Coming down that hill, it’s (the speed limit) 55 miles an hour,” he said. “As you get closer (to the intersection), it’s slower. But people are not slowing down and that approach to the intersection does not have a stop sign. So you can come down that hill flying and turn right down right down Red Road or go whatever direction you want to go without stopping. You have the potential (for a collision) if any of the other stop signs aren’t there.”
A motorist on Kapoho Road who doesn’t know the pavement ends at Red Road could have a rude awakening, especially at night.
“If you come down the hill flying and hit that gravel, that can be an out-of-control experience there,” Noyes said.
That problem was exacerbated recently when an “end of paved road” sign alerting drivers on Kapoho Road was pilfered, Noyes said. It has been replaced.
In addition, one or more hooligans shot up a speed limit sign near the 9-mile marker on Highway 137 in the Pohoiki area, riddling it with bullet holes.
Noyes said that stolen and vandalized traffic signs are an issue islandwide — and an expensive one.
“In the last two years we have had 294 signs come up missing, which means stolen,” he said. “That’s almost 300 signs at an expense of roughly $175 to install a sign, depending on where it is. You know, you’re looking at $50,000 to maintain signs. For example, the intersection that we’re talking about in the period I’m looking at, it took $415 to install those three stop signs initially. And you shouldn’t have to maintain them for seven years. That’s the typical life of a sign. We’ve had had to pay to maintain those signs almost $2,600. If we have to go around doing that, we’re not doing things we should be doing, like road marking, things like that.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.