Remedies for traffic congestion

One of the most widely discussed topics on Kauai is the traffic congestion. We all heard about it, we all experienced it and we all got upset about it. While most of the complaints concern the Wailua/Kapaa Kuhio Highway Corridor, traffic congestions occur on daily basis in other parts of the island as well. I have experienced them even on the Kaumualii Highway in both directions near and in Kalaheo too, which never happened five or 10 years ago.

Complaints have been mounting for years and still there is no solution in sight. The reason is that something important is missing from the General Plan. And that something is the research and the foresight.

According to a front-page article “State pitches Kauai traffic solutions” (TGI, June 22) the Department of Transportation may alleviate some congestion by spending $70 million. Let’s take two words from this statement. One is “may,” which is not the month of the year, but a verb suggesting a remote possibility. The other word is “some.”

These two words appear to be so simple and insignificant that most readers will skim through them without noticing their critical importance. Here the Department of Transportation suggests spending $70 million on something that may work or may not work, practically they have no clue if their selected solution is worth a penny or not. Adding the word “some” is part of their defense strategy, because if they spend the $70 million and there is an improvement only on a small section of the highway — let’s say between two trees — it is already an improvement. So, “don’t blame us” — they may say.

The other interesting statement of Ed Sniffen, deputy director of highways at the Department of Transportation, is that $68 million worth of the projects should be completed within the next five years. Can you imagine the constant road construction for the next five years which will definitely add to the traffic misery in the Kapaa area? Just looking back at the developments of the past five years that undoubtedly became part of the causes of our traffic problems can you also imagine how much the traffic will grow in the NEXT five years? I am sorry for the prediction, but I do see a double disaster and a total waste of money.

Why isn’t there any realistic plan? Perhaps, because nobody dares to tackle the roots of the problem. Have you ever read or hear a public statement from our county administration officially stating what actually caused the current traffic congestion and any commitment that they are working on remedying those causes?

We are not the only island in the world with this problem. Those that found solutions for their island succeeded because they attacked the causes first. When the ever-increasing factors contributing to the traffic problems are ignored the best road building plan is destined to fail in bringing a sustainable solution.

There were at least six public meetings about our traffic problems during the past two years and most of the public meetings focused on the problems instead of eliminating the causes. While the county administration didn’t, the public has already stated that overpopulation, too many vehicles, too many rental cars and too many visitors create the traffic congestions.

If the county does not agree they should officially debunk the public’s reasoning, and come up with their own. There is no need for outside consultation, because if the mayor and his staff living on the island do not see the causes, they are not the right people to assume leadership roles for the island. If they don’t want to publicize the causes it is an indication that they might be afraid of revealing past bad decisions.

Next, the county should publish a summary of its efforts in having studied similar traffic congestion problems and their solutions in other parts of the world where already working solutions were applied. There is the internet, there is the telephone and if really needed even one or two of county experts could be sent over to the some areas to meet with the local experts where they already applied successful solutions. This could bring us more benefits than sending a county delegation to the Philippines to promote incoming tourism from there.

Don’t be afraid to include solutions other countries have successfully used if they can be considered for our island. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here on Kauai.

The General Plan should address the causes of our current problems first, but education, watersheds, Native Hawaiian rights as well, along with transparency and accountability. Don’t we have county officials who take the responsibility for certain parts of the General Plan? It is not a lottery game; it should be the result of thorough and responsible planning.

I have done a thorough research on solutions applied around the world on islands with similar traffic and overpopulation problems and many of them can be considered for Kauai as well.

Here are some examples of measures used elsewhere instead of or in addition to additional road construction: restrictions on vehicle ownership, restricting and reducing the number of rental cars and car rental businesses, free and frequent shuttles to beaches and high parking fees at those beaches, special license plates for rental cars and disallow rental car parking at the beaches, 600 percent surcharge on the annual registration fee on second vehicle for the same person and 1,000 percent surcharge on the third vehicle.

Since the general perception is that overpopulation is one reason for the traffic congestions, but islandwide immigration control is not feasible, moving to the island needs to be made undesirable. One way to do it is through local legislation, for example by making newcomers ineligible for using public services free or at local rates for six years. This would include public schools as well. Home purchases and rentals by people moving to Kauai from other places could be taxed with a 600 percent crisis tax for six years. All these surcharges could go into an internal infrastructure development fund managed by a Native Hawaiian Council.

While some restrictions may hurt a smaller interest group they will definitely benefit the larger community.

So far I did not include the money issue of the measures suggested, but for that our county should have some financial experts on its staff. Their job is to find infrastructure investors. It may sound like a far-out idea, but the most convenient option would be to invite China to invest in improving our infrastructure. The Chinese became the best road and railroad builders and have done and have been doing infrastructure investments in 105 countries around the world, among them in Detroit and other American cities. I am convinced that they would favor our island too.

And lastly I would like to remind all of you that it is easy to complain, but if the county does not hear your complaints and suggestions you wasting your breath. You don’t have to be a master speaker, but your comment of one or two sentences expressing your desire at the public meetings may weigh a lot in the future of Kauai. So, it is time to get off your okole for the sake of our beloved island.

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János Keoni Samu is a resident of Kalaheo.

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