WAILUA — As rush hour dawned Wednesday morning, state Department of Transportation workers fired up chain saws to continue a ditch-clearing project that has been putting a kink in traffic between Lihue and Kapaa.
The work to clear an irrigation ditch alongside Kuhio Highway requires large machinery and involves cutting heavy branches. It also reduces southbound traffic to one lane, which has led to long delays and backups.
Kapaa resident Haunani Rossi said she nearly missed an appointment Wednesday morning after sitting in traffic and had to rearrange her afternoon schedule.
“It took me 42 minutes to get to my destination (in Lihue) from exiting the Kapaa bypass,” Rossi said. “I was thinking about all the other people that were also in this traffic, trying to get to appointments, work or even to the airport.”
Ditch-clearing work started on Oct. 28 and has been continuing, off and on, during weekdays since. The first stint continued through Nov. 8. Workers took a break over the weekend and for Veterans Day, and returned Tuesday.
According to HDOT, the project is scheduled to run at least through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Kapaa resident Christina Alderete said she ran into traffic problems Tuesday when she took her son to Island School.
Her husband John Alderete said the drive is usually about 30 minutes, but Christina Alderete was gone for an hour and a half.
“From the end of the bypass down to past the correctional facility, it took us 40 minutes,” Christina Alderete said. “I thought, ‘this is unusual,’ and then I saw the sign.”
That sign is posted along Kuhio Highway and advertises working hours.
HDOT says work must happen during the day because of safety reasons for those doing the work, and also because of federal laws relating to the endangered Newell’s shearwater seabird fledging season.
Every year the seabirds take their first flights from their mountain burrows in Kauai’s high country and fly across the island and out to sea. Power lines and bright lights are known to interrupt that path and cause “fallout,” meaning the birds are caught in the lines or circle the lights until they fall to the ground. Then they’re vulnerable to predators and car strikes.
Fledging season goes from October through Dec. 15.
By about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, reports from the road indicated traffic was lightening up.
And those who were caught in the backup wondered if there wasn’t a better way to tackle overgrowth on the side of the road.
“Better planning?” Rossi suggested.
“Maybe they could open up the old cane-haul road,” Christina Alderete said. “They’re planning this for weeks, if not months. Certainly they have enough time to give us a detour of some kind.”
HDOT didn’t respond Wednesday to requests for a timeline on the ditch-clearing project, but the weekly lane closure schedule shows work running daily through at least Friday between South Leho Drive and Kauai Beach Drive.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.