Facing reality part of traffic projects

Long-sought traffic improvement plans on Kuhio Highway from Wailua Bridge to the temporary Kapa‘a Bypass Road, and on Kaumuali‘i Highway, from Rice Street to areas west of Maluhia Road in Koloa, are moving forward and may help alleviate traffic in the next few years, state Department of Transportation officials said yesterday.

The improvements — funded by the federal and state governments through an 80 to 20 percent funding match — mark an earnest attempt to significantly mitigate traffic congestion in east and west Kaua‘i, officials told The Garden Island during a roundtable discussion.

The meeting offered officials a chance to put the spotlight on the progress of the work that has been highly anticipated by the public.

But for all the planning and the work that has already taken place, residents don’t know much about the projects as information has not been disseminated, said Brennon Morioka, deputy director of the DOT Highways Division.

That’s where the media’s help becomes invaluable, he said. “Getting The Garden Island to educate the people on the plan and time scheduling for road projects is critical to us,” Morioka said.

In all, the planned improvements are projected to cost about $500 million and are separate from the building of the permanent Kapa‘a Bypass Road for another $250 million in federal and state funds, officials said.

That permanent bypass is intended to bring traffic mauka, or on the mountainside, of Kuhio Highway, possibly in 15 years, depending on funds, officials said.

DOT officials, however, hope to make a dent soon in traffic alleviation along the Wailua — through — Kapa‘a corridor.

“We are going out to advertise in August … September, this year, and will award the contract in November for the construction,” Morioka said. “It will provide four lanes over the Wailua River, adding an additional lane over the cane haul bridge with a bicycle path.”

The two lanes and a bicycle path will be northbound only, and the two lanes on the Wailua Bridge — currently northbound and southbound — will become southbound, he said.

Morioka also said a fourth lane will be added in front of the Coco Palms Resort and will run to the start of the southern entry of the Kapa‘a Temporary Bypass Road.

The DOT will spend $20 million for the work, which can take between 12 to 18 months once construction begins, he said.

The funded work came about after Mayor Bryan Baptiste approached DOT officials in October 2005, voicing concerns about incessant traffic congestion and wanting answers, Morioka said.

“Federal, state and county agencies and consultants were locked into a room until we hammered something out,” he said.

That something was the $20 million project, he said.

“It is a very significant project for us, in that it (is part of an) enormously accelerated schedule,” Morioka said.

Even with the improvements, the key to easing traffic congestion rests with the building of the permanent Kapa‘a Bypass Road some day, perhaps within 15 years, he said.

Road improvements also will occur in another trouble spot — Kaumuali‘i Highway from Rice Street to areas by Maluhia Road, essentially the 7.5-mile highway marker, Morioka said.

The work will transform the two-lane highway into a divided, four-lane highway with bicycle shoulders on both sides of the road, Morioka said.

“The final EIS (environmental impact statement) and finding of no significant impact (FONSE by the government) for all three phases have been done and the DOT is going into design,” Morioka said. “The design plans will finish in early 2008 and go out to bid in summer 2008.”

All three phases will be developed at an estimated cost of $160 million in federal and state dollars, Morioka said.

“We are going out to bid next summer on Phase 1A, which will run from Rice Street to the Kaua‘i Community College,” he said. “This phase will be developed at a cost of $32 to $35 million, which is (funded).”

DOT is moving with this project first because, “This is where the majority of the bottleneck is,” Morioka said.

The construction work will span two years, he said. The second phase, which will be part of a statewide transportation program, will come later, as will the third phase, Morioka said. “We will get money for the other two phases,” he added.

Overall, the Rice Street-to-Maluhia Road improvement project will be developed at a cost of $160 to $180 million, Morioka said.

In evaluating road improvements, Barry Fukunaka, a deputy director with the DOT, said he hopes they will bring the traffic relief residents want.

But if they expect a quick turnover time, they better get a grasp on reality, he said. “It will not happen over night, and the project here is significant,” Fukunaka said.

For one thing, funding is an issue, as the state receives about $130 million in federal funds yearly that are used for projects across the state, officials said. “We have limitations with federal funds and our state funds,” Morioka said.

What developers chip in for improvements help stretch government dollars, Fukunaga said.

And what they contribute is needed, as “what is being proposed by (developers) is significant, and that is the scary part,” he said.

That is why the DOT should be able to give input before government agencies approve projects, Morioka said.

“We want to be part of that decision-making process, so that the developer will understand where DOT is coming from,” he said.

Not all road improvements on Kaua‘i of late have been collared with a hefty pricetag, though, officials said.

One example is increasing the workday, contra-flow time on Kuhio Highway between Hanama‘ulu to Waipouli from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. a year and a half ago, Morioka said. “It has made a significant difference.”

Also freeing up a lane through the intersection of Kapule Highway and Kuhio Highway has been a successful low-cost improvement, Morioka said.

To the suggestion the contra-flow program be extended to Saturday, Laurie Yoshida, the Kaua‘i liaison for Gov. Linda Lingle, said traffic counts have to be done before any more consideration is given.

Steven Kyono, who heads the DOT’s Highways Division district on Kaua‘i, suggested employers, as a way to help ease traffic jams, provide bus service for employees, as the Westin Resort used to, when it operated in the 1980s. Today, the Westin is the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort and Beach Club.

If anything, the DOT has encouraged counties to improve public bus systems and other alternatives to get more people out of their cars, Morioka said.

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