KALAHEO — While traffic on Kauai’s Westside can be bad at times, residents say it’s manageable.
“It’s not like it’s gridlocked,” said Kris Ferguson, owner of Kalaheo Cafe. “Cars move, just slowly.”
But drivers on the Westside are usually good about letting pedestrians cross the street and allowing other drivers in, said Carina Squire, a Hanapepe resident.
“No one gets road rage here,” she said.
Traffic gets especially congested in the mornings and afternoon, said Ferguson, who lives in Lawai.
“Afternoon traffic is bad,” she said. “Starting at 3 p.m., cars headed west are backed up to the Koloa Road intersection.”
Maile Smith, a Kalaheo resident, agreed.
“Most of the day, traffic is OK. It gets busy between 7:30 and 8 a.m.,” she said. “Then it starts back up again at 4:30 p.m.”
Afternoon traffic can depend on how long it takes Smith to pick up her son at Kalaheo Elementary School. If there’s no traffic, it takes her two minutes to get to the school from her Kuli Road home. If she gets stuck in traffic, it can take her about 15 minutes, the Creative Ohana employee said.
“I have to be on it when I leave to pick up my son,” Smith said.
The stop light at Papalina Road is also a cause for some of the Kalaheo congestion, said Squire, who works at Aloha Exchange.
“It’s a long stoplight. Once, it took me four tries to get to turn left onto Kaumualii Highway from the post office,” Squire said.
The level of service, or LOS, rating for the state highway system from Kapaa to Koloa is a LOS-F, which is the “worst possible rating for highway congestion,” said Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser.
The LOS is a way to measure the quality of traffic service. It analyzes highways by traffic flow and measures traffic based on factors like speed and density.
“The situation is unacceptable, and the state and county must work together on solutions, both long and short term, now,” Hooser said.
The Hawaii Department of Transportation is responsible for the highways on Kauai, said Mary Daubert, county spokeswoman.
HDOT identified several projects in its Statewide Federal Aid Highways 2035 Transportation Plan for Kauai’s south and west sides, Daubert said.
But the funding and scheduling for those projects are unclear, she said.
HDOT did not return a request for comment by press time.
In the meantime, the county is working on revitalization projects for the south and west side, Daubert said.
Those projects are:
w Hanapepe Road: Based on a community design charrette held in 2014, and is currently in the design and engineering phase with anticipated construction in 2018.
w Poipu Road: Based on a community design charrette held in 2013, includes intersection improvements that will improve traffic flow in Poipu and Koloa. Construction is anticipated in 2018.
The South Kauai Community Plan has identified other traffic improvements to address traffic congestion on the South Shore.
Those projects include:
w Northerly leg of the western bypass, that will link the eastern and western bypass roads in Koloa and Poipu.
w Several intersection improvements on Koloa Road and Maluhia Road.
But those projects are not currently funded or scheduled, Daubert said.
While Westside traffic is “nothing like Kapaa,” getting stuck on Kaumualii Highway can be frustrating because there are no backroads, Squire said.
“There’s no way around it — you have to go through the lights,” she said.
Traffic especially gets backed up when there’s construction or if a water line malfunctions, said Elena Souza.
“Kalaheo is a small town, and when things that like that happen, it’s hard to get around the trucks,” she said.
Afternoon traffic going to the Westside from Lihue can get hairy, Souza added.
“I always get stuck in Lihue,” she said.
Souza, who has lived in Kalaheo for 30 years, said she’s seen an increase in cars on Kaumualii Highway.
“Every year, there’s more cars on the road — kids get their license, and want to drive,” she said.
Many Westside residents agree traffic safety is more of a priority than traffic congestion.
“When the sun starts going down, people are blinded, and wrecks happen because they can’t see,” said Lawrie Woods, owner of Kalaheo Music & Strings.
Woods, who lives in Kalaheo, said it’s common for people to speed through the 25 mph Kalaheo stretch of Kaumualii Highway.
It’s a sentiment Squire echoed.
“People don’t realize what the speed limit is, and they just fly down the road,” she said. “If people just paid attention to the speed limit and the rules of the road, life on the road would be easier.”
In addition to Koloa and Papalina roads, traffic tends to back up in Hanapepe during Hanapepe Art Night and in Eleele, by the Big Save, Squire said.
Residents would like to see road infrastructure improvements like more crosswalks and sidewalks.
Woods believes there needs to be a crosswalk by the Kalaheo Fire Department. She also thinks the existing crosswalks need to be lighted at night.
Sidewalks are needed in Kalaheo, along Kaumualii Highway, because they would help ensure pedestrian safety, Smith said.
“We really want sidewalks because kids walk to and from school,” she said.