LIHUE — The reopening date for Kuhio Highway on the North Shore set for today has been postponed until the week of May 20.
More than a year has passed since the historic April 2018 floods, and repairs simply aren’t finished, according to an announcement Tuesday by the Hawaii Department of Transportation.
Many island residents were happy to hear the news, confirming rumors that began circulating in the community a day before the official HDOT announcement.
“We can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Elsa Flores Almaraz, of Wainiha.
Eli Frank, also a Wainiha resident whose home was damaged in the flood, said he understands the delay is necessary.
“I honestly can’t wait for the road to open,” he said. “It’s been a long year, but my family and I can wait a few more weeks.”
On Monday, Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami, HDOT Deputy Director for Highways Ed Sniffen and representatives from the Federal Highway Administration conducted a site visit to the work areas on Kuhio Highway prompted by community concerns brought to HDOT officials by Senate President Ronald Kouchi, Rep. Nadine Nakamura, and Kawakami.
The visit also identified safety concerns over opening the roadway near Waikoko Bridge.
“Based on these concerns, Kuhio Highway will not be reopened until the work at the bridge progresses sufficiently to ensure the safety of the traveling public and our workers,” the release said. “Weather permitting, HDOT now anticipates the safety concerns will be resolved and the full opening of Kuhio Highway will occur the week of May 20.”
Maka’ala Kaaumoana, of the Hanalei Watershed Hui, spoke with The Garden Island just after driving over the Waikoko Bridge and said she’s relieved HDOT has pushed back the date.
She suspects the delay is to allow for as much work to be done as possible on the Waipa and Waikoko bridges before workers have to accommodate for extra traffic.
“It’s not ready,” she said.
She thanked HDOT for listening to the community, too, and delaying the reopening “based on the safety and preparedness of the community.”
Kaaumoana pointed out they’ve only got about one third of the solution down, though.
“One part is the road’s not ready. The other part is the parks and facilities aren’t open and the third part is that the shuttle isn’t ready,” she said. “They both say they’ll be ready about the first week of June. Why not wait until then and open it all at once?”
Long-time Haena resident Lindsey Ewing was torn on the delay.
“I’m glad they aren’t opening it yet, I don’t think it’s ready for the amount of people and cars it would bring into our neighborhoods the road is literally not ready for it, especially after a little rain, made no sense,” she said. “However, I wish we were able to have more freedom without restrictions if it was so close to complete, maybe less convoys could be implemented until completion of the road and I’m not looking forward to the weekend closures.”
The National Tropical Botanical Garden announced that the Limahuli Garden & Preserve, closed since the flooding, is expected to reopen in June. Haena State Park and the Kalalau Trail are also expected to reopen in June.
Meantime, the Kuhio Highway convoy will continue until further notice, according to HDOT. The state is considering adjustments to the schedule to accommodate the community and to reduce potential conflicts between drivers and the workers at Waikoko Bridge.
Waipa Bridge Night Work
• The current bridge work on Waipa Bridge will continue nightly through Thursday.
• Work to take place nightly from 7 p.m.
• Parking areas on either side of Waipa Bridge and pedestrian access will be available for those wanting to cross the bridge during night work hours
• The convoys will run on the regular schedule between Wainiha and Waikoko
• The bridge will close to all vehicular traffic after 7 p.m., so any vehicles utilizing the convoy after 7 p.m. will not be able to travel over the Waipa Bridge
• HDOT is coordinating with Hanalei Colony Resort to provide a shuttle for residents between the West Waipa Bridge Park and Ride and Wainiha.
• Night work at both Waipa and Waikoko Bridges will resume Monday and continue through Thursday, May 16. There will be no night work on Friday, May 10 (Kauai Community College graduation) and Sunday, May 12 (Mother’s Day).
• HDOT anticipates the first of two full weekend bridge closures to take place from 9 p.m. Friday, May 17 through 6 a.m. Monday, May 20.
“I’m grateful for all the hard work the state and county have done to reopen the road,” Frank said. “I hope that the state will work with the county and the community to open it all when the road, bridges, and infrastructure are ready.”
Sue Kanoho, director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, has been working with HDOT to get messaging out in preparation for the road reopening, hoping to get visitors informed about the situation on the North Shore before they start the drive to Ke’e Beach.
“We are very grateful that the Department of Transportation was able to give us the extra time to continue the necessary work toward the opening of the highway,” she said Tuesday after the announcement.