LIHUE — On any given day when the rain falls or pau hana time rolls around after work, the traffic leading to the Hanalei Bridge can back up into Hanalei town.
“It’s really creating some frustrations among both residents and visitors, so I think we really need to look at how we’re going to mitigate that problem,” said Joel Guy, a Hanalei resident and president of the Hanalei to Haena Community Association.
It’s a looming problem that, county officials say, will need to be studied over the next year for the island’s North Shore and South Shore areas, where projected population growth, dovetailed with increased visitor traffic, has created longstanding parking and traffic issues along key roads.
“The kind of transportation systems that we have in those resort areas will be very important,” Kauai County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said. “I think the biggest obstacle is the lack of a functioning shuttle system.”
County transportation planner Lee Steinmetz said the planned transit study, set to kick off in mid-May, will seek “to determine ways to shift transportation modes from automobiles to transit to reduce roadway congestion and parking demand.”
“The North Shore and South Shore are two of our primary visitor destination areas as well as major employment centers of the visitor industry,” Steinmetz wrote in an email. “Improved transit service in these areas could have a significant impact on islandwide traffic by addressing the needs of both visitors and the local workforce.”
An 18-month, $214,281 contract to develop the study was awarded last week to San Francisco-based transportation consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc., according to county pur-chasing documents.
“While the focus of the study is the North and South Shores, because the transit system operates as a system, the consultants will also be studying existing local shuttles, such as the Kapahi and Wailua shuttles, and the mainlines into which the shuttles connect, such as the Hanalei-Lihue and Kekaha-Lihue mainlines,” Steinmetz said.
The study will also include recommendations for the mainlines and existing local shuttles that are needed to integrate the entire bus network.
The de-facto population in Koloa, Poipu and Kalaheo, which includes visitor and residents at any given time, is slated to experience a 24 percent jump from 17,950 in 2010 to 22,295 by 2035, according to a multi-modal transportation plan approved by the Kauai County Council in 2013.
North Shore communities are also slated to experience a 5 percent jump in de-facto population from 11,934 in 2010 to 12,551 by 2035.
Yukimura said a key area of concern on the North Shore is concentrated at the end of Kuhio Highway around Kee Beach, where parking is limited.
“Currently, the North Shore is heavily impacted by visitors to popular tourist sites,” Steinmetz said. “During peak visitor periods, parking demand exceeds supply, leading to congestion and dangerous roadside conditions.”
Though the nearly six-month-old North Shore Shuttle service, operated by Experience Kauai and subsidized by the County of Kauai, has made some headway, some say the challenge is to make it financially sustainable.
“I would imagine that we need to look at a stronger motivation to ride that,” Guy said. “Ridership has got to increase for anything to work, and when the pilot program runs its course, then how do you continue, right?”
On the South Shore, meanwhile, parking along the grassy, unpaved shoulders of Poipu Road has become a longstanding issue that prompted a parking workshop to be held several years ago.
“While Koloa and Poipu have been the focus of a South Shore circulator, the connecting point between a South Shore shuttle and the mainline service has not yet been determined,” Steinmetz said. “For the South Shore, part of the vision is to provide a transit network along with roadway infrastructure (bike lanes and sidewalks) where visitors would be able to enjoy their visit to Kauai without renting a car at the airport.”