It’s always important to be careful what you wish for.
Some Kilauea residents, especially those on Kilauea Road, are finding this is a practical — not just a theoretical — truth.
For at least 10 years, people who live in or pass through Kilauea with any frequency have been aware that Kilauea Road—the main artery through town, which carries not just local traffic but hundreds of thousands of vehicles per year taking tourists to the Kilauea Lighthouse — has been in a state of continuous deterioration.
Until some interim light resurfacing work began a couple of months ago, Kilauea Road has been a steadily worsening collection of potholes and broken pavement. In the recent past, some of the potholes had advanced to axle-breaker status.
A complete rebuild of the street has been in the planning stage for some time. At the moment, full reconstruction, including possibly a roundabout at Kolo and Kilauea Roads, other so-called multi-modal improvements and construction of a multi-use path that would run all the way from Kilauea Town to the lighthouse, is scheduled to possibly occur in the 2021-22 fiscal year.
About five years ago, during the early stages of the planning and construction for the newly opened Ahuimanu shopping center in Kilauea, the situation on Kilauea Road was supposed to be of secondary importance since there was a plan at the time for a new entry road to Kilauea Town to be constructed from Kuhio Highway to the new shopping center location.
But that project fell by the wayside after the Hawaii Department of Transportation altered its statewide priorities to emphasize catching up with a multi-billion-dollar backlog of maintenance and repair projects. Although a zoning adjustment had been agreed to, in which Kilauea landowner Bill Hay would convey land for the new road in exchange for approval of a subdivision request, the road project stalled.
All of that being the case, the county, earlier this year, committed to a makeshift solution, which was to lightly resurface parts of Kilauea and nearby Kolo roads — just enough to get through the next couple of years until the major reconstruction can occur. Part of the project was necessitated by opening of the shopping center, which was required to add turn lanes near its main entrance.
The project is about half done, but an unanticipated side effect has emerged. Some Kilauea Road residents — and others in the community — have noticed a marked uptick in the speeds vehicles now travel on Kilauea Road. With the number of potholes in the roadway prior to the repaving, such speeds were not possible. Now, according to residents — and confirmed by simple observation — vehicles are driving much faster on Kilauea Road than they did, say, four or five months ago.
Stephanie Michel, who lives in a pleasant stone plantation house on Kilauea Road, decided to do something about it. In Michel’s view, the county paving project is “like buying a car with no seat belts or other safety features.” She — and other Kilauea residents with whom The Garden Island spoke — are concerned that speeds have increased so much along the densely populated thoroughfare, which is home to dozens of children, that a tragic outcome becomes more likely with each passing day.
So Michel, with her own money, bought 28 signs from Home Depot and installed them along the newly repaved stretch of the road. The signs demand that motorists ease up with reminders to “Drive like your kids live here” and “Slow down: Kids at play.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that some motorists may be heeding the warnings, but how long the signs will remain in place and legible cannot be known.
She said she went to the Kauai Police Department, the mayor’s office and the Public Works Department to ask for speed bumps or some kind of barrier that would force vehicles to slow down. But according to a county spokeswoman, because Kilauea Road is what is called a “collector,” meaning it conveys traffic to nearby Kuhio Highway, existing county ordinances make it impossible to install speed bumps on the roadway. The ordinance doesn’t specifically say if a different kind of barrier — called a “speed hump” or “speed platform”— could be used. Those barriers are designed so a fire truck or emergency vehicle can straddle them as it passes and not have to slow down an emergency response each time a barrier is encountered.
Speed humps are already in use in several Kauai locations, including Princeville and Hanalei.
Michel also asked KPD to position a portable, solar-powered radar sign that projects the actual speed of an oncoming car on a display the driver can see at the roadside on the newly resurfaced part of Kilauea Road. The sign was put in position on Tuesday, but, for safety reasons, could not be placed along the resurfaced portion and, instead, is at the nearby Kilauea Christian Academy, pointing away from town.
KPD could also assign traffic officers to conduct unannounced radar speeding enforcement activities. The county spokeswoman said KPD never announces such steps before they are taken and declined to say whether such special enforcement is imminent.
All of this leaves the situation disturbingly unsettled. Kilauea Road was in unacceptably poor condition. But the light resurfacing underway may have had the unintended effect of encouraging people to drive at unsafe speeds. All of this is occurring as the shopping center’s first stores are opening. Traffic volumes on Kilauea Road are bound to increase and trucks delivering to the shopping center will be increasingly common.
KPD may have the best means to prevent an unfortunate traffic crash that injures or kills someone in the form of targeted speeding enforcement by cops using radar. The department, of course, lacks the manpower to sustain that kind of program for very long and can rationally only be expected to commit to it sporadically.
More — and permanent — radar speed signs might also help. But for the moment, the best outcome is one that will rely on KPD and its already limited resources. It, of course, goes without saying that the very best solution would be for everyone who drives on Kilauea Road to resist the temptation to go too fast that the fresh asphalt has created.
Longtime news reporter and retired communications executive Allan Parachini lives and makes furniture in Kilauea.