Kauai needs better roads

“Waiting will only exacerbate the present situation.”

Those words were written by Kapaa resident William Null not long ago in reference to Kauai’s traffic, specifically, he was referring to the infamous Kapaa traffic. Something, he wrote, must be done. He is right.

The question is, what?

We’ve all, on any given day and night, been trapped in the traffic nightmare in Kapaa. We’ve all swerved around potholes and steered right into them, too. We’ve all cursed silently, and sometimes not so silently, as we’ve traveled the highways and roads, which are not exactly known for being driver-friendly. We’d even go so far as to say Kauai’s highways have a reputation for being a hazard to our vehicles, particularly shocks and alignments.

That’s why we’re glad to hear the state Department of Transportation is holding a public meeting 5:30 to 7:30 tonight at War Memorial Convention Hall. It’s going to be on the “Long Range Land Transportation Plan for Kauai. We encourage residents to attend and share their thoughts on the island’s transportation system.

Kauai needs better roads. We need to plan for increased cars, trucks and SUVs. Consider how many vehicles, according to state motor vehicle registration, we have on Kauai as of Dec. 31, 2012: Passenger, 79,381; trucks, 3,848; motorcycles, 2,063; and trailers, 3,544, a total of 88,836. Add somewhere between 5,000 to 9,000 rental cars on the roads each day, and our roads and transportation system are crumbling under the weight. The infrastructure wasn’t made to handle that kind of car count.

And more are coming. Kauai’s population will continue to grow. According to the latest census numbers, the number of people living here grew to 69,512 in 2013 from 67,090 in 2010, a 3.6 percent increase. And that means more drivers and more vehicles. The state’s draft plan notes this, as well: “In the future, traffic is expected to increase due to a larger population, more jobs, and new land developments on Kauai,” states the Kauai draft plan. “Volumes on Kaumualii Highway between Lihue and Kalaheo are expected to increase by over 30 percent by the year 2035.”

Now, some would argue that leaving the highways and roads as they are deters folks from moving here and driving up real estate prices. Perhaps. Some argue those who don’t like the condition of the roads can move to the Mainland. That’s true.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura has a point that if more people will take buses, ride bikes and walk, instead of driving a vehicle, that will help. Certainly, it will. We agree we need to be more active, exercise and find new ways to travel other than cars. We love the idea of user-friendly paths for walking, running and biking. The benefits are many.

But Kauai isn’t exactly cyclist friendly, not with such narrow shoulders on the highways and roads. And few actually have the time to walk to work. And who wants to walk or ride to the mall or a concert or to dinner when it’s 85 degrees, or when it’s pouring rain? Traveling by foot or on two wheels isn’t feasible on many days. The Kauai Bus is an option, but again, most won’t mess with that public transportation because it’s inconvenient to walk to the bus stop, wait around, ride the bus while it makes many stops, and finally get to where you’re going. Takes too long, some say. Such takes a sacrifice few are willing to make, when instead they could hop in their car and risk the potholes and traffic to reach their destination.

While we support the “Kauai Multimodal Land Transportation Plan,” adopted last year by the council, see it as a sound investment and encourage creation of pedestrian paths, it’s not realistic to expect it will result in enough people changing their commuting habits. It won’t ease our traffic problems significantly, now or in the future. Sorry, but this is a society that likes to drive, no matter the cost of gas. We love our cars and changing that lifestyle is generations down the road.

We’re eager to hear what the state has to say tonight. We’re eager to hear from those who live here, too. We say there must be a plan to better our highways and roads  — paving, widening, aligning and even adding lanes. It’s going to be expensive and take time, but it’s something that’s going to have to happen, as William Null writes, sooner rather than later.

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