Guest Viewpoint for Thursday — September 25, 2003

• Traffic woes mounting

Traffic woes mounting

By Al Paterson

The next time you’re stuck in traffic in Kapa‘a, or Puhi, or any one of the other growing number of bottlenecks, and you’re thinking to yourself how bad the traffic is these days, trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet!! In the next few years, Kaua‘i is going to witness the largest number of high density projects ever undertaken at one time, and the direct consequence will be that not just hundreds, but thousands (yes THOUSANDS) of new cars will be added to our already clogged streets. Impossible you say? Well think again because most of these projects are already approved, are on the verge of breaking ground, or have already done so.

In Princeville alone these include The Villas on the Prince (41 units), the Villas of Kamali‘i (59 units), the Starwood timeshare project (309 units), the Bali Hai timeshare project (75 units with another 117 soon to come), the Plantation at Princeville (68 units) and another new complex in the middle of Pepelani Loop in Princeville (128 units) – so much for that traditional Albatross nesting spot. All of these will be built in an area so poorly engineered (for traffic, ed.) that two of it’s three entrances are shut down every night and with a shopping center that it’s increasingly difficult to find parking in, in spite of the fact that they recently added twelve “new” spaces by resizing the existing ones into some of the narrowest anywhere on Kaua‘i.

That of course is just Princeville. In Kapa‘a another large timeshare complex is planned directly opposite the most congested area on the Eastside (that already infamous series of traffic lights between Big Save and the Kauai Shopping Village). And then of course there’s the south side with some of the island’s biggest development plans racing towards reality. These include 1,500 single family, multi-family and resort units to be built by Alexander & Baldwin as part of its Kukui ‘Ula development. Add to these numbers the growing number of new homes under construction, some of which are almost hotel in size all by themselves (to wit: a new permit for an over 18,000 square feet home – how will this single family possibly manage to squeeze themselves in?). Nor do they include our ever expanding number of tourists, all of whom rent cars.

Here’s the really sad part to all this. The vast majority of these projects will be up and running before any major road improvements are even started!! So folks, if you think it’s bad now, forget it, these really are “the good old days.” The very best we can hope for is that our elected officials will at least persuade the DOT to be innovative in their approach to this fast approaching disaster. As opposed to their current policy of adding new traffic lights wherever there ís a problem, they should follow the lead of other communities across the nation who have overcome similar problems with the introduction of well engineered traffic circles. Recently a well intended but seriously misinformed reader wrote the Forum to disparage this form of traffic control, contending that they don’t work and, even if they did, Kaua‘i drivers would never learn how to use them.

Nothing could be further from the truth. A true traffic circle, or roundabout as they are more often called, (unlike the one lane circle with stop signs at the entry to Princeville – you know the one where the center statue looks like he’s in a freeze frame for a bad underarm ad!) has at least two lanes with merge lanes feeding into it. Our drivers are some of the most courteous in the world, and already voluntarily participate in some heroic merging (as at the north end of Kapa‘a off of Kuhio Highway). For those doubting Thomases amongst you, consider this – in 1994, when the newly hired manager of Vail, Colorado proposed the building of roundabouts at each of the towns three main entry points, his proposal was seen as sheer lunacy and vigorously opposed. Not only did he have to convince these opponents, but having done so, the town had to persuade an equally doubtful state. Now, nine years later, these roundabouts have reduced the commuting time by more than two thirds and are considered such an efficient role model that several other communities have followed suit. The alternative – the introduction of more traffic lights – will merely serve to concertina traffic into congestions that will further aggravate our traffic woes.

If nothing else, this letter will hopefully serve as an eye opener for all those who feel our current traffic woes can’t possibly get worse. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet and when the aforementioned building “boom” is completed, don’t be surprised if the commute from Hanalei to Po‘ipu takes three hours and we’ll all be left fondly reminiscing about the good old days when it only took an hour. One final thought. The last time Kaua‘i experienced such frenetic growth, and our market was flooded with condominiums, values plummeted, and many owners had to wait over 15 years before their values returned to their original purchase price!! The writing’s on the wall Kaua‘i, and it’s past due that we heed the warning signs and take a long, hard look at the road we’re heading down.

Al Paterson is a North Shore resident


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