All politics is local — which is why I can’t figure out why we are still stuck in Kapaa traffic.
The four people in public office now who are primarily responsible are:
Senator Ronald Kouchi who represents all of Kauai and Niihau and is president of the Hawaii State Senate. One would think he has some juice when it comes to state budget priorities.
Rep. James Tokioka has served in the State House for over 20 years representing District 15 (Wailua Homesteads to Puhi).
Rep. Nadine Nakamura, who represents District 14 (Wailua Houselots, Kapaa to Haena), and who has done a stellar job responding to community needs generated by the North Shore climate disasters.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami who formerly was the state representative for District 14 which without question is the district most impacted.
Yes, I will for sure catch grief for naming names. And it is a given that I will be called out (How come you didn’t fix it!) for my responsibility, when I was serving as Kauai senator up until 2010.
The truth is, when I left the Senate 10 years ago, the plan to expand Kuhio Highway from the Wailua Bridge north to the existing bypass that connects to Olohena Road, had been approved and funds to start the project set aside.
Expanding this short stretch of highway to four lanes would make a huge difference to the residents of the Homesteads (where I live) and to the residents of Wailua Houselots. More importantly, the entire flow of traffic heading Lihue bound, would actually flow — as residents could turn right into the residential areas while the main flow continues unimpeded to Lihue.
But apparently, the shearwaters got in the way, planning and permitting got bogged down, and the funding was shifted to the Lihue/Puhi corridor.
During this same time period, the state/county and Kapaa Business Association came up with the Kapaa traffic mitigation plan which included “county options.”
Acknowledging that the state is responsible for Kuhio Highway, the plan offered numerous remedial improvement options that the County could undertake that would also help alleviate traffic. Perhaps the most ambitious of these options was a proposal to connect the Houselots directly with the Kapaa bypass road so residents could then avoid Kuhio Highway altogether. A “backdoor” Pooli Road connection to the Foodland shopping center directly from the bypass was also discussed.
Unfortunately for whatever reason the county has resisted getting involved in the Kapaa traffic corridor mess, preferring to leave it in the state’s lap. And yes, Lihue again seems to be getting the lion’s share of county money and attention — the “Rice Street improvements” seem to be nonstop.
So where does this leave those of us stuck in Kapaa traffic? What about the Kapaa businesses who suffer tangible economic harm from the pervasive “avoid going to Kapaa” syndrome their potential customers adopt?
The official response will of course be something to the effect of “Not to worry, construction on this project will be starting by the end of the year.”
I may be wrong, but it sure feels like this is the same response we’ve been getting for the past several years.
Those who know the history: from two lanes, to three lanes, to weekday contra-flow, to now weekend contra-flow — nothing seems to happen until people start making noise.
It is a universal truth that the squeaky wheel gets grease. While state leaders are most responsible, the county must also assume a leadership role in resolving this long festering problem.
The present traffic situation along the Kapaa corridor is unacceptable. It is unsafe, it is bad for business and it has negatively impacted our quality of life for far too long.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.