Mayor asks for state funds for traffic

Through Administrative Assistant Gary Heu, Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste told state lawmakers the county would like state leaders’ help to address the island’s “affordable-housing crisis,” and help alleviate traffic congestion.

Heu delivered the annual Kaua’i legislative message to members of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and House Committee on Finance earlier this week, as Baptiste was still traveling in the Philippines.

“Much of our attention was focused on the affordable-housing crisis last year, and we intend to continue to examine ways to address this situation, along with ways to alleviate traffic congestion, another major problem that a large number of residents have to deal with on a daily basis,” Heu said in Honolulu, reading Baptiste’s legislative message.

Heu and Baptiste said members of the county administration have been meeting with state Department of Transportation Highways Division officials on a monthly basis, and together they have developed short- and long-term plans for alleviating traffic congestion.

“To that end,” they said, “the county’s 2006 CIP (capital-improvement projects) requests have a direct link and benefit to state roadways and proposed projects.”

Included on the list of projects strongly supported by county officials are improvements to Pouli Road in Waipouli, which is considered an important link between the Kapa’a bypass road and Kuhio Highway and would allow travelers to get in and out of the Waipouli Town Center without necessarily getting onto the highway.

Another priority project is the construction of an additional southbound lane on Kuhio Highway between the southern end of the existing Kapa’a bypass road and the Wailua River, and the multiphase widening of Kaumuali’i Highway from two lanes to four between Rice Street and Maluhia Road (Tree Tunnel).

In regards to housing, Baptiste and Heu said progress has been made in the area of affordable housing, including the pending transfer of state lands to county officials by Gov. Linda Lingle.

An expedited permitting process developed by members of an affordable-housing task force for affordable-housing projects has substantially reduced the time it takes to process these types of permits, and drafting of a housing policy by the citizens affordable-housing advisory committee will call for any new developments on Kaua’i to have affordable-housing requirements, they said in a press release.

A coalition comprised of land-owners, developers and representatives of various government agencies was formed last year to tackle pressing issues such as affordable housing, Baptiste and Heu said.

The first step taken by coalition members was to conduct an affordable-housing survey to determine how many affordable units are actually needed on the island. The results of the survey are expected to be available next month, they said.

“While our major goals are to provide affordable housing and traffic relief for the citizens of Kaua’i, there are other objectives that we want to accomplish as well,” they told lawmakers.

Identifying workforce shortages as a growing problem faced by owners and operators of local businesses, Baptiste and Heu discussed steps that have been taken to assist employers with their needs, including increasing employment readiness training programs and the implementation of the Team Tech Kaua’i Adopt-a-School program.

They also expressed hope that more can be done to alleviate this concern.

They said they understand 2005’s accomplishments were the results of the work of many people, including members of the County Council, private sector, and community.

“It was a year which saw many accomplishments, along with the emergence of new challenges,” they said.

They also expressed their appreciation to state legislators for their support over the years, citing key appropriations that have greatly benefited the citizens of Kaua’i, including those for the Vidinha Stadium rubberized-track project, which is expected to be completed by the end of February; the pending establishment of the island’s first emergency homeless shelter; and the planned adolescent residential drug-treatment facility and drug-prevention programs.

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