Highway widening could last a decade

LIHU’E – Traffic-flow engineers say westbound traffic on Kaua’i turning left

onto Nani Street in Puhi is at the root of jams that slow cars to a snail’s

pace along Kaumuali’i Highway between Lihu’e and Puhi.

The engineer, from

ParEn (Park Engineering), explained that something of a domino effect results

when one driver taps his brake pedal and others behind follow suit.

The

expert appears to be right, as drivers who regularly traverse that section of

the highway between Lihu’e and Puhi can clearly see under closer

examination.

Before the traffic signal at Nuhou Road at the new middle

school was activated, it was Nani Street traffic that began the congestion. The

new signal, especially during the morning and afternoon peak periods, slows

traffic even more.

For traffic heading into Lihu’e during the morning peak

period, though, it is the amount of traffic all bent on arriving at Lihu’e-area

destinations in time for work or school that causes traffic to back up from

Puhi past the Tree Tunnel most weekday mornings.

There is relief on the

horizon, though construction funds for a highway improvement have not been

secured. The state Department of Transportation is poised to move into the

design phase for converting Kaumuali’i Highway from two lanes to a four-lane

road, from Lihu’e to just beyond the Tree Tunnel.

ParEn is a consultant to

the DOT for the project, which recently was deemed to have no significant

environmental impact by the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.

Anyone wishing to challenge that finding has until Sept. 22 to do so, according

to the agency.

While seven miles seems like a short distance, completing

the entire project likely will take longer than one mile a year once

construction starts, explained Glenn Yamamoto, acting Kaua’i district engineer

with the DOT’s highways division.

Barring a public challenge to the finding

of no significant impact, the design phase of the widening project will take

two years, he said.

If construction funds are available, phased

construction will begin, with the Lihu’e-to-Puhi stretch the first phase. The

first phase is estimated to cost $30 million to $40 million, and will include

construction of a new two-lane bridge near the Lihu’e Plantation mill.

The

first phase is expected to take two years to complete, once construction

begins. Again, Yamamoto cautioned that the timetable is contingent upon funding

availability.

The DOT is looking at 80 percent of the funds from the U.S.

Federal Highway Administration, and 20 percent from the Hawai’i

Legislature.

With a total project price tag of somewhere in the

neighborhood of $100 million, that would mean getting $20 million in state

funds.

Staff writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at 245-3681 (ext.

224) and [pcurtis@pulitzer.net]

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