LIHUE — Loop Road construction is set to begin today, after more than a year of muddy conditions, vandalism concerns and the installation of a new gate just past the Keahua Bridge.
The road was badly damaged in the April 2018 floods and subsequent storms worsened driving conditions, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which manages the Lihue-Koloa Forest Reserve.
Loop Road is the only public access into that forest, which is popular for hunting, gathering and hiking. It begins just after the bridge over Keahua Stream, near the Keahua Arboretum.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources issued a statement Monday, announcing construction kickoff, pending good weather, and that DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife “would like to apologize for the delays in progress of road repairs.”
They also confirmed Loop Road is still closed to the public and a gate has been installed to prevent vehicular access to the area.
Following suggestions that sprouted from a Sept. meeting with forest users, the gate will be open on weekends and state holidays, but DLNR advises: “enter area at your own risk, the state will not be responsible for any damages to vehicles that utilize Loop Road while it is still closed.”
The Keahua Arboretum area has been a construction site for several years, starting, most recently, with the $2.5 million new bridge over the stream completed in April 2017.
About a year later, record-breaking rain washed out large portions of the road and DOFAW started warning drivers about fallen trees across the roadway and large potholes. Various entities, like Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, help patch up some of the road, but more funding was needed to do a complete repair job.
Over the next few months, DOFAW posted signs warning the public of the dangerous conditions and staff says there were two emergency situations in which vehicles got stuck in swollen streams.
So, DOFAW dug a deep trench across Loop Road in August 2019, a trench lined with large boulders to physically stop all traffic from driving down the road. Within days, community members filled in the trench are removed the roadblock.
That triggered the September meeting in which DOFAW staff members met with community members. They came to a solution — install a gate to prevent the public from driving the road, but providing windows during which locals can access the forest.
That gate will stay open during weekends and holidays during the 3-6-month, $500,000 road repair project, unless there’s vandalism, theft or “destruction of newly repaired sections”, according to DOFAW.
Should any of those occur, “DOFAW will have to keep the gate closed until all repairs are completed,” DLNR staff said.
Jessica Else, editor, can be reached at 240-0457 or at firstname.lastname@example.org