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Community talks traffic solutions

KAPA‘A — A Department of Transportation engineer said yesterday that short- and long-range projects planned for the Wailua corridor will alleviate traffic — but they’ll take time and money.

Speaking to a packed house of 25 to 30 attendees at the Wailua-Kapa‘a Neighborhood Association general meeting at the Kapa‘a Library, Steve Kyono, district engineer for the DOT Highway Division, first outlined a $50 million “short-term improvement” to Kuhio Highway and the existing Wailua Bridge.

That figure includes $25 million to be spent on a new Acrow bridge, similar to three in use in Wainiha, that will expand the existing cane haul bridge spanning the Wailua River to allow for two lanes of traffic in each direction.

The state will begin accepting bids for the bridge expansion next month, with construction expected to begin early in 2009 and last roughly 12 months.

The new bridge will also feature an attached section of multi-use path, which will connect a 4.3-mile segment currently between Kapa‘a and Kealia with a 2.3-mile segment at Lydgate Park.

Eventually, a continuous 16-mile multi-use path will stretch from Nawiliwili to Anahola.

The other $25 million will be used to widen Kuhio Highway, adding an additional southbound lane between Kuamo‘o Road and the south end of the temporary Kapa‘a bypass, a 0.6-mile stretch of road.

“I am all for the widening,” said Lt. Kaleo Perez, district commander of Lihu‘e’s Patrol Operations, in a phone interview Thursday. “It should increase safety.”

Furthermore, a right-turn-only lane will be added to Kuhio Highway for those turning up Kuamo‘o Road, and the existing right-turn-only lane for those entering the highway from Kuamo‘o will be extended farther back, alleviating much of the traffic backup, Kyono said.

The state will begin accepting bids for the highway widening portion of the project during the summer of 2009, with construction beginning late next year and expected to last roughly 18 months.

Kyono said that a four-lane Kuhio Highway and four-lane Wailua Bridge would alleviate the Haleilio Road and Kuamo‘o Road bottlenecks and negate the need for the current contra-flow program, which allows two lanes to travel southbound into Lihu‘e until 10:30 a.m. on weekdays and costs the state some $300,000 annually.

“Obviously, we have just one highway between Kapa‘a and Lihu‘e,” Perez said. “It’s a busy stretch of road, used by many residents and visitors.”

Kyono said the DOT originally hoped to begin both projects simultaneously, but a “snag” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made that impossible.

Fish and Wildlife Assistant Field Supervisor Jeff Newman said last month that power lines are “like a net” for two species of seabirds, the endangered Hawaiian Petrel and threatened Newell’s Shearwater.

For that reason, the DOT and Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative will need to spend some $15 million to bring the highway into compliance with the Endangered Species Act by undergrounding the existing power lines to secure a permit for the widening project.

“(The Fish and Wildlife Service) see themselves as being regulatory enforcement, so they made threats to us, even myself included, saying it’s criminal,” Kyono said. “(They told me), ‘If we get one take (dead bird), Mr. Kyono, that’s a criminal action.’ So, I don’t want to go to prison.”

Kyono also discussed plans for the Kapa‘a Relief Route, also known as the (permanent) Kaua‘i Bypass. The long-range highway project will cost $250 to $350 million and is designed to completely circumvent Kapa‘a town, stretching mauka-side of Kuhio Highway from the junction with Kapule Highway in the south to the intersection with Malihuna Road in the north.

There are currently four potential paths, Kyono said, but the first step toward implementation, an environmental impact study that was started in 1992 and initially expected to take less than three years, has yet to be completed — due at least in part to finances.

“This, in my estimate, will be a long time coming,” Kyono said. “I don’t think this island will see that kind of money in one fell swoop. Though we’ll be able to break it down into more manageable pieces, … it’s going to be difficult to get that kind of money for Kaua‘i.”

Kyono suggested that one away to raise funds would be to increase the state’s fuel tax, a measure he called “long overdue” but said was unlikely because of its political implications.

Kyono also fielded numerous questions from community members, including a query from Kapa‘a resident Fred Wells about how ocean levels, rising due to global warming, could impact highway access in the not too distant future.

“We have had discussions with the U.S. Coast Guard and the (Department of Land and Natural Resources) gets involved with anything on the shoreline,” Kyono said. “One of the purposes and needs of the Kapa‘a Relief Route is to get the highway out of this tsunami inundation area.”

Kealia resident Rayne Regush, who introduced Kyono, asked about a long-rumored highway directly from Princeville to Lihu‘e through the center of the island.

“One of the things we’re going to be doing is updating the long-range transportation plan,” Kyono said, without quite addressing the idea’s plausibility.

• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or via e-mail at mlevine@kauaipubco.com

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