Solving traffic congestion in the Kapaa-Wailua corridor

Wherever on Kauai one may live and whether one is a visitor or resident, we can all relate to the frustration and cost of traffic congestion. Traffic congestion diminishes our quality of life and limits our economy in far-reaching ways. We all have a stake in solving it.

Today’s traffic congestion is due to past planning decisions that allowed development before a land transportation system capable of handling the increased traffic was designed and built. How can we avoid this problem now and in the future?

The solution becomes clear when one reads the South Kauai Community Plan, presently before the County Council for adoption. It is the first and only Kauai land use plan that is both a land use and transportation plan. It recognizes that land use and land transportation are inextricably intertwined and that planning for one cannot be done without planning for the other.

The South Kauai transportation plan is also multimodal in nature: it plans for all modes of land transportation (motor vehicle, bike, pedestrian and bus). It does not plan primarily for the single occupancy vehicle (SOV) which is how planning has been done up to now and which why we have traffic congestion and parking problems today.

Mahalo to the Planning Department and the South Kauai CP consultants who included a multi-modal transportation component in the South Kauai Community Plan.

Mahalo to the citizens from Koloa-Poipu who, several years ago, way before the community plan was initiated, requested a bill for a moratorium on building in Poipu. This caused community-minded landowners and developers to come together to address one of the biggest concerns underlying the push for a moratorium: regional traffic! They raised $300,000 among themselves and hired a nationally known multimodal transportation consultant to put together the Koloa-Poipu Traffic Circulation Plan.

Thanks to the landowner-developers in the Poipu area and the professional work of Charlier and Associates, that plan became the basis for the transportation component of the South Kauai Community Plan.

Orderly future growth is now possible in the Koloa-Poipu-Kalaheo area because there is a plan for transportation in the area. Because a competent traffic circulation plan was done that involved the community, a moratorium (both real and de facto) was averted.

First and foremost, we need a traffic circulation plan for the Kapaa-Wailua Corridor that measurably reduces congestion in the area.

Second, any developer wanting to build in the Kapaa-Wailua Corridor, like the developers in the Koloa-Poipu area, must help to fund the circulation plan, and no development should be approved until and unless the traffic circulation plan has achieved its congestion reduction goal.

If we approve development before addressing the current traffic problems we will be repeating the unfortunate past practice that has led to today’s mess.

While many traffic plans for the Kapaa-Wailua Corridor have been proposed, many of them are either insufficient or too expensive and time-consuming to be feasible.

For example, after 25 years of talk and hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Kapaa-Wailua Bypass that would have required a mauka bridge over the Wailua River has been abandoned by the state DOT due to a cost-prohibitive price tag of $1 billion.

Neither does the business community of Kapaa want a four-lane highway through Kapaa which would split the town in half, make crossing the four lanes immensely dangerous for pedestrians and would remove on-street parking.

The fastest, most feasible solutions are multimodal. They work on the principle of “mode shift” by which a significant number of people shift from traveling in a Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) to walking, biking or using the bus.

I am not talking about forcing people to give up their cars. People will shift their mode by preference when walking, biking and the bus become safe, convenient, reliable and attractive to users. Therein lies our work if we want to encourage mode shift.

A good multimodal land transportation plan will determine how many short trips and how many through trips, how many resident trips and how many visitor trips are involved in the Kapaa-Wailua traffic every day.

Using accurate data, the planners, with the community, will be able to look, for example, at how many cars they could take off the road voluntarily by having the Kauai Bus come every 15 minutes during rush hour, along with more modest infrastructure solutions such as the extension of Pouli Road. I suspect that a good plan could show us how to take 200-300 cars off the road at peak traffic — more, if necessary.

I propose that the state and county pool their monies with contributions from the development/landowner community, hire the best possible transportation consultant with multimodal planning expertise and complete a multimodal traffic circulation plan for the Kapaa-Wailua Corridor in 12-15 months.

Then and only then will the county be able to determine how much and what kind of development will promote the common good in the Kapaa-Wailua area.

•••

JoAnn Yukimura is a Kauai County Councilmember and serves as the chair of the Committee on Housing and Transportation.

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