Developers ante up for traffic plan

Resort developers are poised to hire a nationally renowned traffic planner to forge a plan to ease traffic congestion in Koloa, Po‘ipu and Kalaheo and to ensure efficient and safe traffic flow though South Kaua‘i.

At an information meeting at the Koloa Neighborhood Center Wednesday night, Jim Charlier, chief executive officer with Charlier Associates, based in Boulder, Colo., announced a South Shore developer put up funds to bring him to the meeting to begin the work.

Hartwell Blake, a Koloa resident and attorney, later announced the developer was Starwood Hotels, which is connected with the Sheraton Kaua‘i Resort.

Charlier said nine developers plan to hire him at a cost of $300,000 to produce the plan.

He told an audience of more than 90 persons the implementation of recommendations from the plan could mean less traffic congestion, more use of bicycles, pathways and the public bus system and busier marketplaces for residents and businesses.

Sam Lee, a Koloa resident for 36 years and retired district manager of the Land Division of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources office on Kaua‘i, said he liked what Charlier offered to South Kaua‘i residents. Lee said he welcomed implementation of a plan that “will protect us from being drowned in traffic.”

“I left the meeting with renewed hope and optimism, ” Lee said.

Sean Mahoney, a resident of Kealia in East Kaua‘i, said Kaua‘i needs what Charlier has proposed.

Charlier said he didn’t intend to “come into the community to tell people what to do” and will spend a lot of time talking with residents, government officials and business and resort representatives before identifying problems and finding solutions.

Charlier preliminarily recommended production of detailed maps to identify resort areas and future resort areas. He encouraged discussion on whether wider roads are needed, or trails are needed. Decisions need to be made as to whether roads and pathways should be connected between resorts and whether routes be made available for the transporting of agricultural goods.

The anticipated hiring of Charlier by developers is unprecedented, said Blake, who formerly led the Kaua‘i County Attorney’s Office.

The developers include Kukuiula Development Company, Hawaii, Kiahuna Partners, Poipu Village, Starwood Hotels and operators of shops in Koloa, Blake said.

“The developers agreed to hire Charlier and to work with Kaua‘i County to pay for improvements from the plan,” said Louis Abrams, vice president of the Koloa Community Association.

Two weeks ago, the developers hedged but changed their minds when they were reminded of Kaua‘i County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura’s proposal for a moratorium, Abrams said.

The measure would ban the issuance of county permits for resorts in South Kaua‘i until the county has updated a development plan for Kolo‘a, Po‘ipu and Kalaheo.

Blake urged residents to contact the council once the plan is completed and to lobby the lawmakers to appropriate matching funds for the improvements.

“This may be a very good plan,” Blake said. “It may be terrific. But the council has to buy into it, find it acceptable.”

Charlier said he has been involved in traffic planning for more than 30 years, and has done a lot of work in communities “like this part of Kaua‘i.”

Charlier said the work can be done in short order, and could take a little more than three months. “We have been asked to move quickly on the project,” he said.

“Not addressing the problem would be folly,” Charlier said.

Growth and more vehicular traffic go hand in hand, he said, and some developers and municipalities have opted for the quick fix to traffic congestion — wider multi-lane roads and bigger intersections with signals.

Larger intersections, though, raise the risk of people getting hit by vehicles, he said. As a result, fewer people will use the crosswalks, opting instead to get back into their automobiles and drive on roads, further aggravating traffic conditions, Charlier said.

Charlier said development of residential projects or resort projects that were not linked amounted to poor planning. “We are not building communities. We are building projects,” he said.

Leaders planning for better traffic flow in South Kaua‘i can learn a lesson from what has happened in many areas of O‘ahu: the building of residential projects that are not connected.

As a result, motorists drive from one community to another, creating more traffic congestion, Charlier said.

“A similar problem may develop on Po‘ipu Road where a gaggle of developments are planned,” he said.

Charlier said vehicular traffic will only get worse as more resort and resort-residential units go up along the road, and more vehicles empty onto it.

Charlier said he doesn’t have a solution for that situation, but noted government laws could be approved to require the resorts or residential-resort projects in Po‘ipu to limit the congestion.

“For the most part, it will be up to what the community wants,” Charlier said.

Charlier said planning is the best way for the community to curb traffic congestion.

Good planning has helped his hometown, Boulder, Colo., gain recognition for having among the best multi-modal transportation systems for a city in the United States, he said.

That system involves road networks and use of public bus systems and bicycle and pedestrian paths.

“It is funny; people (in the rest of Colorado) hold it against us,” Charlier said.

Charlier said a well-planned transportation system, whether it be for his hometown or the Koloa, Po‘ipu and Kalaheo area, should offer motorists an easy way to get around and to have more street parking for businesses.

So that he can start doing the work, Charlier said he would need traffic data for the region. He would need information on traffic safety programs and routes used to transport farm goods, and on which routes farm machinery travel.

Yukimura, who was credited by some community members for helping to push for the plan, said she likes the thrust of it. “It will benefit everyone, will help the county, the resorts, and it will help businesses,” she said.

She said she liked the idea that the plan will be “respectful of old Koloa town and the values local people have about the area,” she said.

Yukimura said the existing county use plan for the Kalaheo, Po‘ipu and Koloa area calls for a traffic circulation plan, though one may have never been developed.

“It shows a lapse of a planning process,” Yukimura said. “Steps not taken mean we are really in a difficult situation.”

Lawrence Chaffin, a Kaua‘i County Planning Commission member, thanked Ted Blake and his brother, Hartwell Blake, for spending a lot of effort in putting together the Wednesday meeting.

Hartwell Blake said Wednesday night’s meeting came about because of concerns residents raised at a Ka Leo O Kauai meeting on March 23.

The subject of the county taking over two state-managed housing projects in Koloa came up at that meeting.

Don Cataluna, the Kaua‘i representative on the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, requested another meeting be held to discuss imminent flooding issues in Koloa, which was threatened by flooding at the time.

Interest in the regional traffic plan grew out of that meeting, and at an April 20 meeting, developers agreed to the conditions.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com.

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