State pitches Kauai traffic solutions

KAPAA — Five projects with a combined price tag of nearly $70 million are on tap with the state’s Department of Transportation that may alleviate some congestion in the Wailua/Kapaa Kuhio Highway Corridor.

And some of those should be starting within the next year, including a southbound lane along Kuhio Highway fronting Coco Palms and turn lanes to alleviate congestion.

DOT representatives brought the public up to speed on the projects during a 90-minute Tuesday town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Nadine Nakamura.

None will provided immediate relief.

“We know this is something that’s not solved overnight,” Nakamura said. “But we have a plan.”

Kauai gets sidelined when it comes to funding, Kevin Crawford said, and the Kapaa man hopes to see some of that money funneled to projects that will make real change.

“I just hope they actually do something,” said Crawford, one of the about 80 people who attended the meeting. “It wasn’t this bad 10 years ago.”

About $68 million in projects should be completed within the next five years, said Ed Sniffen, DOT’s deputy director of highways.

The five projects include adding lanes to the Temporary Kapaa Bypass Road and improving the intersection at Kuhio Highway; providing turn lanes from Kuamoo Road approach during contraflow; optimizing traffic signals at Kukui Street Haleilio road and Kuamoo Road; and adding a southbound lane to Kuhio Highway between Kuamoo Road and Kapule Highway.

“When we started looking at these projects, we started looking at how they could link up with other projects and plans, too,” Sniffen said.

The projects were distilled out of the Kapaa Relief Route — a plan that’s been in the works for 30 years to pass traffic out of Kapaa Town and get cars off the highway, Sniffen said.

Estimates to create the Kapaa Relief Route are between $200 million and $650 million, and cultural impacts also put a hiccup in the plan.

“In general, this is a project we still see as a need in the system, but one we can’t afford right now from the funding perspective and from the impacts perspective,” Sniffen said.

The project was deferred and a Kapaa Traffic Solutions Group was created to find ways to move pieces of the project forward and make some wiggle room in the streets.

That group looked at 50 solutions and reduced those to the top five.

Adding one northbound lane, including pedestrian and bicycle facilities, to the Temporary Kapaa Bypass Road north of Olohena Road would cost about $22.5 million and would include intersection improvements where the road meets Kuhio Highway.

“It’s for safety and to incentivize people to bypass town so they don’t have to go through Kuhio Highway corridor,” Sniffen said.

Another plan is to create a cul-de-sac at the eastern end of Hauaala Road, and a new connection from Hauaala Road to the Temporary Kapaa Bypass Road, with a price tag of about $3.9 million.

A southbound lane along Kuhio Highway between the Temporary Bypass Road and Kuamoo Road, with improvements at major intersections is expected to cost $12 million.

It’s a project that was once on the books, Sniffen said, because reported grave sites near Coco Palms triggered a historic preservation requirement and U.S. Fish and Wildlife had concerns about endangered birds.

The USFWS gave the option of reducing the power line height to below the tree canopy and other options to reduce bird take in that area, Sniffen said. That cut the project’s cost from $30 million to $12 million, and made it doable, he said.

“We’re going through permitting process on this right now and we expect to be advertising this project by the end of the year,” he said.

And from Kuamoo Road to Kapule Highway, DOT plans to construct a southbound lane as well, with a cost of about $43.4 million.

Optimizing the five traffic signals by modifying the existing timing to trim lines along Kuhio Highway is expected to cost $1.12 million and that project should be completed within the next year, according to DOT.

A shared turn lane from Kuamoo Road approach during the contraflow operations could reduce delays. That project should cost about $600,000. The right-turn lane will be extended.

Money for these projects comes from a combination of fuel and vehicle weight taxes, vehicle registration fees, and rental motor vehicle surcharges.

In fiscal year 2016, fuel tax brought in about $88 million, registration fees garnered around $44 million, vehicle weight taxes generated $80 million, and rental surcharges amounted to about $54 million.

Marj Dente, of Kapaa, said she thinks money should be going toward a rail system on Kauai.

“How much more is it going to cost to buy easements for a land-based rail system,” she asked at the meeting. “Roads will not take care of the visitors coming here, trains can be used to take care of them.”

DOT did not provide exact start dates or estimated completion dates for any of the proposed projects.

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