Rough road still ahead

State officials have abandoned any pretense that storm-damaged Kuhio Highway west of Hanalei can reopen before late January, and some sources familiar with what they describe as an “unsettled” situation say the road might not be reopen until the second half of 2019 — or even later.

For weeks, people familiar with the project and the status of repair work have said discovery of previously unrealized damage and the severity of what occurred at several points on the road will make reopening before late January impossible. These same sources have agreed that the timeline could extend out to any time from next June to December.

In June, the state Department of Transportation estimated that full reopening could occur this month. In a subsequent update of the convoy schedule that provides access to the area for residents, DOT hinted that reopening might not occur before January.

A Wednesday news release, however, alluded to substantial additional delay.

“The previous estimate to have repairs significantly completed was the end of the year,” DOT said. “However, with additional storm events like Lane and Olivia, the completion timeline is being reevaluated.”

No revised schedule was provided.

The repair process ran into weather-related delays and discovery of numerous previously unrecognized engineering challenges. But a federally required process to certify that repairs will not damage the highway’s status on the National Register of Historic Places is a key factor, too, a state official familiar with it told The Garden Island.

Officials from several state agencies, including the DOT, are gathered in Honolulu for meetings scheduled to last until Friday to try to come to grips with numerous timing issues that have plagued the project. Joining the government officials are contractors and consultants.

In particular, the officials are focused on speeding up what is known in government circles as the “Section 106 process.”

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the law that governs the National Register, requires that multiple agencies evaluate and approve projects that may affect the function and design of a wide array of work on designated historic sites.

Kuhio Highway from the Hanalei Bridge to the end of the road gained listing on the National Register in 2004 after years of effort by North Shore community groups and residents who sought to protect it from fundamental changes in its design and flow. The drive for listing emphasized retaining the seven, one-lane bridges for which the highway is internationally famous.

The designation was lauded as an important development in protecting one of Kauai’s oldest roadways and numerous historic sites along the 10-mile stretch of what is also known as the Kauai Belt Road.

The April storm complicated a related project to repair or replace six bridges between Hanalei and Haena. The bridges are unable to accommodate even moderately heavy trucks and make it risky for even certain fire apparatus to cross.

The bridge project, in turn, was further complicated by a decision by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to move ahead with renovations and redesign of Haena State Park. The park renovations will halve visitor counts —from 2,000 to 1,000 per day — and resolve persistent traffic problems. Moving the park schedule up takes advantage of government disaster-relief funding.

So-called Section 106 approval is required for the bridge project, and all on-site work has been suspended for several weeks pending the outcome. At least four state agencies are required to officially accept the bridge design as protecting the historic nature of the highway before work can resume. Not all have done so, according to a DOT official.

All of the delays due to the panoply of factors have frustrated the agencies trying to reopen the highway to normal traffic. Many community members have expressed even more severe frustration, though a large number of residents continue to welcome return to the storm-recreated isolation of Haena that many cherish.

Larry Dill, the DOT’s chief engineer on Kauai, said “we are not nearly as frustrated as the community” with the many and varied delays and ongoing uncertainty about when the highway will reopen.

Since the storms, all access to points west of Hanalei has been restricted to residents and others with valid reasons to be there. Residents can come and go only by joining convoys that operate on a set schedule. The convoy operation has made it difficult for children to get to school and adults to get to and from jobs.

There are at least four sites on the highway where storm damage was extremely severe, with parts of the roadway collapsing, hillsides failing and existing retaining walls and other structures collapsing. On a convoy two weeks ago, it was clear that work is fairly far along at two of the sites, but at the other two major obstacles remain. Chief among them is the need to cut away and regrade part of a mauka hillside where the roadway has shifted but left no viable means of affecting repairs by shoring it up makai.

Some community advocates are trying to push ahead with a plan to create a shuttle system that could run from Princeville to Ke‘e Beach. Kauai County officials are known to be evaluating at least one shuttle proposal for possible receipt of federal and state disaster funds.

When such a system could go into operation and how much it would cost remain unknown, however. Also unknown is whether anyone but residents would be allowed to travel on such a shuttle, including visitors trying to get to Ke‘e and other tourist sites, or people with reservations at vacation rentals that dot the area.

The county has not disclosed when a decision on the shuttle proposal may be reached, although a community group that advocates for the shuttle was apparently asked follow-up questions about its plan as recently as last week.


Allan Parachini is a retired public relations executive and Kilauea resident who writes periodically for The Garden Island.

  1. Richard Blake October 4, 2018 6:07 am Reply

    This is not all bad news. It will help our community come together even more, and let the residents continue to experience how life once was. It wouldn’t surprise me if property behind the barricades (and modern times) becomes a sought after safe space for it’s peace.

  2. Uncleaina October 4, 2018 6:17 am Reply

    This is the perfect storm of bureaucracy, inefficiency and elitism. The previous decision to keep all the old bridges- decided by the elites – is ultimately why this won’t be done for at least 2 years. Also the decision to re-do Kee will further slow the process. I doubt anyone will be driving to Kee, parking and simply enjoying the beach until 2020. Or later. It was much better back when you could just park in the trees. Shuttles etc will fully turn it into Disneyland up there.

  3. Makaala Kaaumoana October 4, 2018 7:10 am Reply

    Route 560 historic road corridor includes the entire route 560 from Princeville to Kee, 10 miles. Section 106 consultation is not a “delay”, it is a lawful process of consultation with experts and local practitioners who provide necessary information to DOT and other agencies.

  4. Paula October 4, 2018 12:19 pm Reply

    What about building a sky-tram like is used in ski resorts? It would cause less impact to the land and create an even more unique experience for all involved and possible create revenue for Kauai.

  5. over October 4, 2018 12:36 pm Reply

    This decision is the result of poor planning, they knew the road was under historic designation and are just now getting around to addressing this issue?

  6. Mike October 5, 2018 1:03 am Reply

    Would like to come and help! Would need a place to stay ect. Aloha and Mahalo! 🙂

  7. Ray Songtree October 5, 2018 2:45 am Reply

    The area is a ghost town. Hundreds of cars go out to work each AM, come home and rest. The only people seen are people who don’t have to work. Those are the very few (yet vocal) people who like the peaceful “isolation”. Yea, great if you don’t have to work and you have time to be vocal. Who has time to go to beach? No one. The beaches are empty.

    To go to Hanalei town which is 7 minutes away, is a minimum 1 hour round trip to shop for 15 minutes in Hanalei, forget getting to Princeville, gas, hardware store, bank. That would require four hours between convoys. To do anything for five minutes with a child after school, means returning at earliest 6PM. Fine, but why drag this out?

    Meanwhile, no where in article is mentioned that the State refuses to do night work. Why not. Why not have crews working under lights? Big lights. $100 million lights. No where mentioned is County receiving $100 million and not having a desk on North Shore for contractors to get permits. Contractors all have to travel to Lihue once a week to work here. WTF?

    We are basically prisoners while the County milks the state for money and prolongs work. The August flood and Hurricane flood effected Hanalei River and Black Pot area, but our road was not damaged. That is no reason to say the time must be extended. It is lame lying excuse.

    $100 million means $250,000 per day for 400 working days. That would pay 100 men getting $1000/day for 18 months, and still have $150,000/ day to rent equipment and get supplies. We don’t see 100 men working, and I’m including the work at Hanalei Pier. The other men and women are probably bureaucrats. Great. They have job security to do what?

    How about $1/2 million spent every day if it was 200 working days! Is everyone getting these numbers! So where is the money going? Where ?

    Larry Dill was right, working people and parents here are frustrated. More accurate would be “pissed off” and add “very.” But you know, we have to be cool, mellow, have aloha and go into denial.

    No, we are stressed for time and energy and also money, while the state’s $100 million is going where? Is it going for local weekly food bank visited by a few people who are not working, and for the paid person to organize that? Fine, that is almost nothing in a $1/2 million per day budget. Is it going for people paid by government to use government equipment for private property side work? Yes, that is going on also. Stealing.

    Who is overseeing and auditing this? With $100 million gift from state, there is no coordinating oversight? Why not? No webpage? We depend on hearsay and local Facebook page and incomplete news articles to know what is happening? Meanwhile some of our candidates share recipes with their constituents, but don’t bother to question the financial corruption as this road situation amply demonstrates.

    Kauai, where is all the money going?

  8. Kai October 6, 2018 9:40 pm Reply

    We have heard directly from the Road Construction Supervisors that the completion date will be late November. It seems unlikely that it will take any longer based on the roads current condition.

    Friends (on the other side) asking how the repairs are going as they have been forbidden to visit since April or risk a $5,000 fine. It seems like opening up the road in the next 2 months is entirely possible, as the crews are wrapping up the repairs on the final landslide area by the Wainiha river. The rest of the repair areas appear to be completed. Took some photos to share with everyone of the two remaining construction areas in Wainiha Bay:

    Hopefully with the election coming up on November 6th one of the new possible Mayors or newly elected officials will make it a priority to wrap up the project asap.

  9. over October 7, 2018 2:28 am Reply

    It is most likely that they aren’t even working a full 8 hours on the site. They are probably meeting at the yard, where the clock starts. They drive up to Wiakoko, get there around 9ish work until noon, take lunch work until 4 and then leave for the day. Am I right?

  10. over October 7, 2018 2:46 am Reply

    Lot’s of standing around, saw one crontrustuction vehicle working on this video. Should be done in 2022.

  11. Some guy October 11, 2018 9:27 am Reply

    Ahh, we want a gated community and we want fema to pay for it….Right?

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