KAPAA — When it comes to solving traffic problems in Kapaa, Joanna Wheeler believes a holistic approach is best.
“There needs to be other solutions than expanding lanes,” she said. “It’s important to have safer ways for people to ride their bikes and walk.”
If measures were taken to better promote Kapaa as a walkable, bikeable town, there would be fewer cars on the roads, she added.
“People get in their cars just to go a few blocks. Why should we get in a car to go the beach, if it’s right there?” she said.
The Kapaa resident was one of about 50 people who attended a traffic solutions meeting Thursday hosted by the Kapaa Business Association.
“We all know what the problem is, but everyone has a different way to solve the problem,” said Bob Bartolo, KBA vice president. “It’s a matter of what we can and cannot do.”
Projects identified by the Hawaii Department of Transportation focus more on adding lanes and re-configuring traffic lights to make sure they are timed right, said Larry Dill, Kauai district engineer for HDOT.
During the meeting, Dill outlined five main projects, identified by the Kapaa Solutions Working Group, which was made up of state, county and community business representatives.
Those projects, which range from $1 million for traffic signal optimization to $43 million for widening Kuhio Highway between Kuamoo Road and Kapule Highway, were then prioritized based on their timeline and ability to receive funding, Dill said.
The No. 1 priority project on Kauai is adding a southbound lane on Kuhio Highway fronting Coco Palms, between the Kapaa Bypass and Kuamoo Road, Dill said.
“We feel this will have the most significant impact in relieving congestion. But it doesn’t mean you won’t have to slow down, he said. “We’re hoping to fund this project by the end of the year and start construction in 2018.”
When it is all done, there will be five lanes — two going north, two going south and a left turn lane, Dill said.
“We have all the right of ways we need, we’re only missing a few easements for electrical,” he said.
The project was supposed to start in 2016, but the Fish and Wildlife Service originally required HDOT to use underground utilities, which tripled the price of the project. In August, FWS changed the requirement, and the project is moving forward again.
Other Kapaa traffic projects are:
w Extending the Kapaa Bypass by adding a northbound lane on Olohena Road. The approximate cost is $20-25 million.
w Widening of Kuhio Highway from three to four lanes from Kuamoo Road to the southern end of the Kapaa Bypass. This project will add a shared right/left and right-only turn lane from Kumaoo Road during contra-flow hours. The approximate cost is $15 million.
w Kuhio Highway traffic signal optimization, which will modify traffic signal timing at the highway intersections of Kukui Street, Haleilio and Kuamoo roads to reduce wait time along Kuhio Highway. The approximate price tag is $1.1 million and is expected to begin by 2019.
w Widening Kuhio Highway between Kuamoo Road and Kapule Highway to four lanes by adding a southbound lane. The estimated cost is $43 million. The project is in its planning and engineering phase.
While funds for the projects haven’t been received, Dill said he’s confident the money will be in place by the time the projects are ready to start.
“Our intent is to get these projects done within five years of getting the funds,” he said.
Bartolo suggested HDOT erect a “thru traffic keep right” sign before the Wailua Bridge.
“There’s going to be an accident there one of these days,” he said.
Larry LaSota, who lives in Wailua Homesteads, said HDOT needs to focus on road re-surfacing projects, especially on Kuhio Highway in front of Coco Palms.
“It’s horrible; cars are getting beat up everyday, and they’re saying they’re not going to fix it before they start the project,” he said.
After the meeting, LaSota said the biggest takeaway was the lack of funds.
“There’s no money, that’s what he said,” he added.
When it comes to Kapaa traffic, LaSota’s biggest frustration is the Kuamoo Road and Kuhio Highway intersection.
“It takes 20 minutes after 7 a.m. to get through it,” he said.
For Wheeler, it’s all about promoting safety.
“The intersections need to be safe for pedestrians and even bikers,” she said. “I’d love for my daughter to be able to ride her bike around town, but it’s scary.”