Patience needed for Kuhio Highway repairs, opening

It’s been nearly nine months since much of Kuhio Highway on the North Shore of Kauai was destroyed in the April flooding disaster. And to the dismay of many, that key section of vehicle travel remains closed to the general public, and will be for several more months.

For some, it’s taking far too long. And based on the latest update from the Hawaii Department of Transportation, it’s going to take even longer. We could be looking at mid-2019. HDOT isn’t offering a tentative date for when Kuhio Highway might reopen to the public and people will be able to resume visits to Ke‘e and Makua beaches on the North Shore. We would suggest it will farther down the road then hoped.

But before anyone decides to try and sneak past the checkpoint just beyond Hanalei (we don’t recommend this. The public is warned that any person violating the county’s recent emergency rule and order shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fines of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of not more than one year, or both), there are a few things to consider.

Patience is needed here.

We can rest assured that HDOT is doing its best to make the repairs and get the road open again. But remember, this was no minor damage. Total cost for the Kuhio Highway emergency repairs from the historic April flood is estimated at $77.2 million. Much as we might wish it, this was never going to be a quick fix. Sections of the highway were pretty much washed away. Gone. Holes big enough to swallow a bus left behind. Not only are they having to rebuild from the ground up, they have to make it better than it was before so when more heavy rains come, and they will, the road will stand strong.

And for safety reasons that are obvious, HDOT can’t reopen the road until it is 100 percent certain that it meets the standards to handle the traffic that will come its way just as soon as that checkpoint is removed. Imagine the outcry if it rushed to open the highway and something happened.

Progress is being made on those North Shore repairs, but as with any major project such as this one that is outdoors, Mother Nature plays a key role, there’s going to be endless red tape to cut, and many regulations to meet.

HDOT reported that “on-going weather and environmental challenges, permit-issuance procedures, and production rates which have been significantly impacted by the need to accommodate traffic through the construction areas and other factors have led to unavoidable extensions in the project schedule.”

That’s a bit of technical jargon for this word: “delays.” And delays are not to be unexpected for this type of work. In fact, it would be unusual to complete something of this magnitude in less time than expected.

Now, HDOT anticipates that slope stabilization and roadway repairs between Waikoko and Wainiha will be substantially complete in April. Then, the renovations to the Waioli, Waipa and Waikoko bridges are anticipated to be substantially complete in May. And that’s if the weather cooperates.

So, we won’t be seeing the last of the convoy between Wainiha and Waikoko for some time. It will continue to operate until “HDOT determines that it is safe to allow access without it.”

There was also extensive damage to Haena State Park and Napali Coast State Wilderness Park in the April flood, both of which remain closed to visitors.

This closure is taking a toll on legal transient vacation rentals and some businesses as well. Give them credit for hanging in there. Their efforts, we hope, will be rewarded.

We likely won’t see the return of the popular Haena-to-Hanalei eight-mile fun run in June, either. But organizers are looking for another route around Hanalei, so there may yet be a race for the runners and walkers out there.

Bottom line, Kuhio Highway past Hanalei won’t be opening again for several months. That much is certain. But before anyone starts complaining, we urge them to look to the North Shore residents, who took the brunt of the April storm and are still in recovery mode. Yet, they have endured and soldiered on. They have set an example of patience and resilience that the rest of us should follow.

  1. Charlie Chimknee January 12, 2019 6:10 am Reply

    Aloha Kakou,

    Yes the Wailua Homesteaders are exercising their patience too. The Puuopae beidge, about the size of a car, will take about a year to replace, thanks to the contractor who appears to have abandoned the bridge’s repair, but instead uses an area about 20 times the size of the bridge on private (rented?) property to store 6 backhoes, a giant earth hauling truck, portable bathroom, portable office, and a container, and the bridges original super structure looks as good as the day it was built, but who 2 of our famous county council nit pickers deemed in need of replacement, Glen and Ken, the feisty twins from the Far Side,

    At least the Kamalu race track is an alternate route.



  2. RG DeSoto January 12, 2019 11:01 am Reply

    What’s up? The severely damaged highways in Alaska were repaired (albeit not the final work) and usable within 72 hours; yet, here on Kauai the state and county cannot seem to get repairs done to the highway past Hanalei as we approach the 10 month mark. Typical…tax the heck out of us and fail to deliver what we are taxed for.

    RG DeSoto

  3. Pat Brubeck January 14, 2019 6:59 am Reply

    I think we all understand that after a major event such as this, it is very difficult to predict with any accuracy a date for a safe reopen date. However, it would be helpful if HDOT kept the public aware of the current expected reopen date. Even as it changes, at least the public would be kept informed.
    Having said that, I would also like to commend all of the great work being done by local government and community in working through such a challenging time.

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