LIHUE — Jim Guerber, head brewer and owner of Kauai Beer Company, was elated when he heard that Kauai County was earmarked to receive $13 million in federal funds targeted at revitalizing the Lihue Town Core.
“Right now traffic goes too fast, it’s hard to get across,” he said. “This should be a neighborhood kind of a thing. And it’s going to be. I love the idea.”
Others said the county’s plan could be a boon for business.
Many of the projects, slated to be covered by the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grant, include the addition of pedestrian and bike lanes on Rice Street and a shared-use path from the Lihue Civic Center to the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall and bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
“For us it will be great,” said Jeff Adams, executive director of Ha Coffee Bar. “If it’s beautification, it’s one of the things we’re going for. Better bike traffic. We’re going to end up with more people.”
But Adams said he realizes that even though the project, which could begin as early as 2018, is designed to improve businesses in the long run, he understands that every project has a cost.
“There will be blockages, minor road closures that will affect us,” he said.
Some were concerned on-street parking, which many Rice Street businesses depend on, could be eliminated.
“If they widened the street, private parking lots, like ours here, would disappear,” said Peter Kea, president of the board of directors for Garden Island Resource Conservation and Development, which is inside the Yoneji building on Rice Street. “Parking gets pretty full in here already.”
Others had concerns about street closures.
“If they close it one by one, it would not be too bad,” said Hong Jian, owner of Garden Island Barbecue and Chinese Restaurant. “If the customers can’t get in, how are we going to get visits from the customers?”
TIGER grant project manager Lee Steinmetz said the program’s main project is designed to improve Rice Street and make it more aesthetically pleasing and safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
One of the biggest differences will be converting the street from four lanes to three lanes, and ensuring that places where there is dedicated on-street parking remains where it needs to be, he said.
“On Rice Street, there will be one lane in each direction, a designated lane in each direction,” Steinmetz said. “Now in the new configuration, you have one through lane in each direction and a designated left turn lane at the intersections. So now, we are separating the left turn traffic from the through traffic.”
Steinmetz said on-street parking near the Civic Center will be removed and new bike lanes will be added.
The catalyst project is aimed at increasing the streetscape of Rice Street and making it safer for pedestrians and cyclists, he said.
Guerber said once the project is completed, which is scheduled for 2021, businesses will spread out on Rice Street and people will start walking up and down the street.
“You know what’s going to happen, you’re going to get more places like bakeries and candy stores,” Guerber said. “It’s going to take over from the mall.”