HAENA — It was the moment that many had been waiting for — or dreading — the reopening of Kuhio Highway and reintroducing Wainiha and Haena to the rest of the island.
Since 7 a.m. Laura Schoenfeld and Marylee Pangman were ready near the Hanalei Colony Resort, as they held signs with messages: “Try slow. Be respectful. Sacred. Mahalo.”
Ka’iulani Mahuka held up signs, too, and played Tahitian drum music in her truck as she danced, a great way to grab people’s attention.
“People have been flying through the bridge,” Schoenfeld said.
The limited visibility due to a bend in the road, combined with the narrow width of the bridge near the Hanalei Colony Resort, can be a recipe for disaster, she said.
“It’s not safe, that’s the bottom line. There needs to be signs,” she added.
Schoenfeld and Pangman own a unit at Hanalei Colony Resort in Haena. When it comes to who she thinks should have access to Wainiha and Haena, Schoenfeld adds, “If I had my preference I would want all the visitors to come out on a shuttle. But that’s not realistic.”
Pangman shares, “It’s very bittersweet, but we’ve also missed the people. My concern from what I understand, that they’re monitoring the shuttle and cars, they’re monitoring the 900 people.”
“But there used to be 3,000, so the remaining cars will still be coming out looking for parking.”
Schoenfeld sat in a lawn chair holding an “aloha” sign counting the number of vehicles that passed her. By about 9:30 a.m., she had counted 132 cars and trucks she said were carrying visitors; 60 carrying residents, and 24 driven by workers of one kind or another. And one taxi.
“We just want people not to think that this is the North Shore versus them,” she said.
Mahuka’s amiable message urging drivers to go slow was non-confrontational.
“We’re happy to see the road open, but at the same time, we’re worried” about what may happen next as more and more tourists find out that the highway is open again, she said. “I still think we’re not ready” for the road to be fully open, she said, because repair and replacement of three one-lane bridges remains incomplete.
The opening, she opined, was “soft for the tourists and hard for the residents.”
As if to underscore her sentiment, at the nearby Waikoko Bridge repair site, a line of nearly 15 vehicles backed up awaiting a flagger’s order to proceed. Work on the bridge is nowhere near finished.
Pangman brings up a solution that many residents seem to support: Put a cap on the vehicles coming in.
“There should be someone monitoring at the entry,” she said.
Their sign-waving campaign was effective. Vehicles passed by continuously, many of which were speeding until they spotted the signs and hit the brakes.
Down the road, Damian Handisides from San Carlos, Calif., took a dip with his family and commented on the changes to Wainiha and Haena.
“I think it’s great, mostly due to environmental reasons. That’s how it should be,” he said.
Regarding the parking reservation system, he said it’s worked elsewhere. Parking in the right place is important when it comes to being respectful and watching out for the environment, he said.
“Now we know where we will be able to get a spot, it’s nice to have a designated parking spot,” he said.
Allan Parachini contributed to this report.