LIHUE — For many, Lihue is the heart of Kauai, and the Rice Street revitalization project is something to be excited about.
“Our county government is here, our state government is here, our airport is here, our institute for higher learning is here in the Lihue District,” said Pat Griffin, Lihue Business Association president. “Our harbor is here in Nawiliwili, which is part of the Lihue District.”
There are twice as many people working in Lihue on weekdays as putting their heads on pillows at night, she said.
“Traditionally, Lihue was the gathering place and it deserves to be that now,” Griffin said.
About 40 people gathered Thursday night at the Wilcox Elementary School cafeteria for an update on the project. It started in 2014 with some design workshops, progressed to the application process for the $15 million TIGER (Transportation, Investment Generating, Economic Recovery) grant, and then to the awarding of the grant.
Tim Clark, project manager with Kiewit, said they should be able to start construction within the year.
“We’re at the tail end of putting that together and you can imagine that’s really exciting for us,” he said.
The design work is about 70 percent complete. Staff are in the process of securing permits and will continue to work on public outreach and business coordination, Clark said. Construction will be broken down into two phases.
“Phase one has four different components to it essentially and then phase two is a pretty big piece of work that will also be broken up into components mostly because we’re going to get started with some of this sooner,” he said.
The phase one components include Rice Street and several side streets. Phase two includes the civic center parking lot, the bus transit center, a covering on the school parking lot in the area, and a shared use path that connects the civic center to the convention hall.
The vision for the project originated at a time when things were financially tough for the county, said Acting County Engineer Lyle Tabata.
“The county was looking for ways to kick-start our community and this grant sprung up on us from our consultants in Washington, D.C., and they presented it to us and we jumped right on it,” he said.
The genesis was to find a way to fix the infrastructure and find a sense of place that would “allow the community to rally around our Lihue town core.”
“When I was growing up as a kid, everything happened in Lihue,” Tabata said.
He remembered Christmas parades with lights strung across the street, two theaters, the bowling alley that had the best meatloaf.
“Everybody used to come to Lihue,” he said.
The project is intended to reinvigorate the town core and provide a platform for economic recovery, Tabata said.
Dr. Tanya Gamby owns an office building in Lihue. “I think making all of the community town centers more walkable and easier for bikers and pedestrians is exciting and a good development for Kauai,” she said.
It’s also important to reduce transportation because of climate change, Gamby said.
“I think it enhances communities to have people using and interacting in the community more actively,” she said.
Lloyd Yonenaka, vice president of CommPac, the public relations firm working on the project, said many times when the public thinks about construction, roads, concrete and asphalt come to mind.
“The truth of the matter is all of the infrastructure is about people,” he said. “It allows us to get from point A to point B. It allows us to drive safely. It allows us to pick up our kids in a timely manner. Hopefully it directs the traffic to the positive.”
Americans with Disability Act coordinator Linda Nuland-Ames said the project will increase access for individuals with mobility devices or mobility limitations.
“We have problems with access in some of the areas with sidewalks and poles blocking the way and the curb cuts needs to be smoothed out,” she said.
Nuland-Ames said these improvements will also make it easier for people with children pushing a stroller or a shopping cart.
“I think it’s going to be beautiful,” she said.