Still stop and go through Kapaa

KAPAA — Christine Dorland has lived and owned a business in Kapaa for about 14 years, but she and some customers of her accounting firm are tired of the daily traffic jams.  

On bad days, Dorland said it will sometimes take about an hour and a half to drive 1.5 miles from her office on Kukui Street to the Waipouli Town Center.

“A few years ago, I had a client who said he was thinking about changing accountants because he didn’t like the traffic in Kapaa,” Dorland recalled. “I talked him out of it, but I get that. I get that a lot — the traffic is bad and people don’t want to come into the office.”

Dorland was one of nearly 30 people who attended a Kapaa Business Association meeting Thursday, where concerns about the town’s long-standing traffic problems took center stage.

“Kapaa traffic is not an easy solution,” said Department of Transportation Kauai District Engineer Ray McCormick, who spoke at the meeting.

“If it were easy, we probably would have some of the problems solved by now, so that’s why we do so much reviewing and looking over different things. I would really would like to stop the heavy traffic going through Kapaa, but I know we’re not going to be able to do that the way many people would like.”

McCormick said there are a number of projects in the works to alleviate congestion on the highway through Kapaa and Wailua.

Two combined projects that have been looked at extensively are the widening of Kuhio Highway fronting Coco Palms Resort and the nearby Wailua Cane Haul Bridge to four lanes — two southbound and two northbound lanes. The once-combined road improvement project for the highway and the bridge were split several years ago, so more progress could be made.

Since then, that portion of Kuhio Highway has been widened to three lanes that are now subject to contraflow measures from Monday to Saturday during high traffic times in either the southbound or northbound lanes.   

Parts of the two projects, however, have stalled over the years and become more costly because of environmental, permitting and funding constraints.

The $30 million price tag for the bridge widening project alone, McCormick said, largely stems from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service request to place all electric utilities along the highway underground to mitigate impacts on native birds.

About $10 million, he explained, will be used to widen the road about 10 to 15 feet to create a second southbound travel lane, while the remaining funds will be used to bury utility lines in an underground trench along the highway.

Adding the fourth lane, McCormick said, will improve operations and right turn movements at the intersection of Kuhio Highway and Kuamoo Road, which has been identified as an area where traffic back ups occur regularly.

Final approval for the project, McCormick said, should take place within the next few months, leaving about another year before it is advertised for bid.

Contraflow measures in the area are expected to cease once the projects are completed.

“The challenge is how to make traffic through Kapaa go faster,” McCormick said. “It’s a never- ending job.”

In the same area, McCormick said the DOT is also looking at a proposal to install a traffic signal at Lanikai Street and Kuhio Highway fronting Kintaro Japanese Restaurant and create separate left- and right-turn lanes onto Lanikai Street.

Another proposal under consideration includes modifying the Haleilio Road and Kuhio Highway intersection to add a second southbound through lane and eliminate the northbound left-turn storage lane.

Many of these proposals, McCormick said, arose from suggestions and ideas sent into the Hawaii Department of Transportation Office by residents, community members and even legislators concerned about the traffic.

“Engineers aren’t always the smartest people,” McCormick said jokingly. “It’s good for us to get input, because sometimes you’re out there sitting in traffic — and it’s like sitting in traffic in different places — yet we look around and look for ideas and ways to find out what’s causing the back up and why it’s doing what it’s doing.”

But not all of the traffic problems can be blamed on transportation issues alone.

“Sometimes you drive along and all of a sudden the traffic opens up and we don’t know what caused it,” McCormick said. “It’s not always the traffic signals. It’s not always the road. Sometimes it’s the driver.”

Liz Ronaldson, owner of Growing Greens Nursery in Kapaa, said she has encountered instances where both drivers and pedestrians did not follow road etiquette.

“I’ve heard a lot about the traffic in Kapaa and with all of the screaming and the yelling, I think what hasn’t been addressed is manners,” Ronaldson said. “It’s awful, because some people will rip right in front of you so they can get two or three cars ahead or not let you turn when you need to. That’s just really bad manners, it really is, but people don’t seem to know about manners anymore.”

For more information, contact McCormick at 808-241-3006 or raymond.j.mccormick@hawaii.gov.

• Darin Moriki, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0428 or dmoriki@thegardenisland.com.

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