Transportation transformation

LIHUE — Edwin Furumoto, a freshman at Kauai Community College, has to cope with sun and rain almost daily in order to pursue a liberal arts degree and eventually, a psychology major.

The young man can drive but doesn’t have a car.

So he gets to school by bus, and usually waits for it at a stop at Kuhio Highway near Laukona Street in Hanamaulu, close to his home. The unsheltered stop has a wood bench and a chair provided by an anonymous donor, and that’s it.

“It’s packed in the morning,” Furumoto said of the stop. When the rain hits, he said a lot of people run across the street to find shelter under the roofs of private homes. Then when the bus arrives, it’s a hassle — and a hazard — to cross the highway back over to catch it.

If it’s sunny, it’s usually not much better than the rain.

“I see people squatting behind the bench,” said Furumoto, describing how some senior citizens seek protection from the sun.

If Kauai County officials get their way, they’ll be able to provide Furumoto and other bus riders with more protection.

The county Transportation Agency is moving forward with a project that will cover — literally — at least 46 bus shelters on the island.

But for it to happen, the administration will ask state lawmakers to come up with half of the $1.2 million to help pay for it.

“I love that we’re asking for 50 percent state match,” Kauai County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said about the proposal. “It makes a lot of sense to me.”

That’s because, according to County Executive on Transportation Celia Mahikoa, Hawaii is one of four states whose government doesn’t fund transit systems.

“Unfortunately, Hawaii was one of the four,” she said, referring to a 2010 study by the American Transportation Association on the subject.

The council wants to change that — at least for next year.

The council’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s request to include in the 2014 Kauai County Legislative Package a bill asking the state for $600,000. The proposal now goes to the full council for final approval.

The state funding would match the county contribution and allow construction of at least 46 bus shelters across the island. But Mahikoa said it’s possible the county may be able to build several more shelters with the money.

That would be welcomed news to other bus riders like Hanamaulu resident Tessie Duldulao, who doesn’t drive or own a car, and relies mostly on the bus to get to her work at Walmart in Lihue.

She usually waits for the bus at the Kalepa Village shelter, which has a bench and a narrow roof. She said the shelter is OK, and it’s better than having no roof, like the one by Laukona Street, a few hundred yards away. But because of the narrow roof, she still gets rained on once in a while.

And for Puhi resident Esther Palalay. Palalay’s husband and children drive her to work most of the time, but sometimes she takes the bus.

She lives in a Puhi subdivision west of KCC, and has to walk a long distance to reach the bus stop. To make matters worse, the stop has no shelter.

“Every time you have to bring your umbrella,” she said, adding she would also like the Kauai Bus to venture into her subdivision, especially because she’s about to retire and would like more independence.

“It’s hard to depend on others,” she said.

Shovel ready

Mahikoa said the county was “shovel ready” for the project.

If the funds are approved, it would take a year or a year-and-a-half from receiving the money to completing the project, which is “a very ambitious goal,” she said.

By next summer, Mahikoa said the county would build 10 or 12 shelters, and with the additional funding, it would be able to start building the next 37 shelters.

“It would be a significant amount of progress that we would be able to accomplish within a couple of years from now,” Mahikoa said.

The average price of a shelter would be $25,000.

“Some will cost more and some will cost less, depending on the sidewalk connectivity that is existing versus what we may also need to include in the scope of that site, in order to have it fully accessible,” Mahikoa said.

The county has 121 bus shelters, of which seven have county-provided shelters, five have shelters provided by the private sector, and 19 bus stops are near existing structures, according to Mahikoa.

The project would take care of about half the unsheltered bus stops, she said.

Some riders said if the county was going to take on the project with the state’s help, they should go all in.

David Ellis, a former a U.S. Marine who lived in San Diego, took an early retirement and now lives in Kapahi. He doesn’t own a car, and utilizes the Kauai Bus to go everywhere on the island.

It’s bad enough that some stops have no protection from the elements, but on weekends the problem is compounded because the busses come in longer intervals, he said.

If the county is going to spend this kind of money on building shelters, Ellis said, he suggests they build wide enough roofs that would really protect people from the rain and the sun.

“If they’re going to go for it, go for it,” he said.

Input sought

Up coming public meetings on the project:

The meetings are scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. as follows:

• Oct. 14 – Kalaheo Neighborhood Center

• Oct. 15 – Lihue

Neighborhood Center

• Oct. 16 – Kapaa Neighborhood Center

• Oct. 17 – Waimea Neighborhood Center

• Oct. 18 – Kilauea Neighborhood Center

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