HANALEI — Traffic comes to a screeching halt just outside of Hanalei at mile marker one as road crews hold stop signs.
It’s a “light duty day” as the wait time at the stop where crews continue emergency slope stabilization and temporary rockfall barrier work Monday morning lasts roughly five minutes.
The Lihue-bound lane on Kuhio Highway has been closed to create, “a temporary catchment area for rock or soil from the slope,” after a rockfall on May 4.
In Hanalei, the number of people walking the streets and visiting local shops is noticeably down, according to several business owners. It’s something that has the possibility to hit their bottom lines this summer season.
“Now it seems to me that a lot of people are more aware of the road closure to Haena and so they are not coming to Kauai at all if they would have otherwise,” said Timothy Hamilton, manager of Na Pali Catamaran. “A lot of the people that are here, now they’re hearing about Hanalei and just the hassle of it, so it seems like they just couldn’t be bothered to come up here.”
Hamilton points to the available parking spots in Ching Young Village Shopping Center, a visual representation of the effect of being sandwiched between one road closure and the temporary rockfall barrier.
“It’s normally really hard to find parking here,” Hamilton says. “We usually have to direct people where to park, but now it’s just really easy to park. It’s obvious to see how open it is now.”
Hamilton added that business hasn’t been affected to the point of being worried yet, but he’s sure that they are bound to feel it sooner than later.
Down the road at Pedal ‘N Paddle, manager Marissa Kreber shared Hamilton’s concerns.
“I can’t say for sure how it is going to be from here on out,” Kreber said. “The beginning of last week was really bad because they were doing the complete stoppages and road closure for an hour at a time. But then the last few days it was not that bad because it was just the flagmen and they weren’t really stopping traffic.”
Kreber said customers told her they were informed by concierges to stay away from Hanalei.
“I could understand when it was hourlong waits, that people didn’t want to sit in that,” Hamilton said. “I could understand why they would even say to avoid the area because they’re trying to limit that congestion and hopefully speed up their work, but I mean that’s at the detriment of small businesses down here, all businesses basically.”
A mile away at Black Pot Beach, loaders are busy rounding up rubbish, preparing for the official reopening of the county-owned beach in June.
“It’s not affecting me, I love it,” said a local man who goes by “Uncle Mitch.” “The tourists are all trapped in Hanalei, so I love it. I wish it would stay shut down a little longer. But some people like the Hanalei guys, I know they love it because all the commercial stores, everybody’s stuck there.”
Uncle Mitch said in his view, he has seen an increase in people.
“More people, yeah,” he said. “I’ve been keeping all my workers busy, so it works.”
Ching Young Village manager and owner Michael Ching said there is some misinformation floating around about the road closures.
“I think it’s gonna be bad,” Ching said. “We noticed the difference the last couple days when it was minimal closure, it just one lane, but they were doing roadwork. We got pretty slowed up. It’s still going to slow down. I think there is some negative press out there saying that Hanalei is closed and you can’t access it, which is untrue.”
Ching reiterated that the Kuhio Highway is open, but there is going to be some delays due to one lane being closed near the Hanalei Bridge.
“We want to make sure that we get the word out that the road is open,” Ching said. “On certain days there might be where the delays might be a little worse, but we’re hoping that we can work a solution where they can open at certain times, or you can flow in or flow out and we need to come up with some creative solutions.”
According to the Hawaii Department of Transportation, the Lihue-bound lane of Kuhio Highway will remain closed for the duration of the slope stabilization, which is expected to take between four to five months to complete.
HDOT is targeting June 13 for the full opening of Kuhio Highway beyond Hanalei.
“If I had to bet, I would bet that it is going to get continually pushed back,” Hamilton said.