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Kauai faces big debate over future of bridges

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LIHUE » A plan to update Kauai’s single-lane Opae­­kaa Bridge has officials and residents discussing how much of the bridge’s history should be preserved while structural changes are made to enhance safety.

Andy Bushnell, a 41-year resident of Kapaa Homestead and retired history professor at Kauai Community College, supports keeping Kauai’s one-lane bridges as an important part of the area’s rural lifestyle.

"When you drive up to the bridges, you know you have to stop, and you do," Bushnell said.

He said the one-lane bridges afford people the opportunity to say hello, something that would not happen on a two-lane bridge, he said.

Others, however, argue that the one-lane bridges should be replaced with two-lane bridges for safety, according to the Garden Island newspaper.

Bushnell was among several people who testified last week during an update from the administration to the Kauai County Council on the status of repair and maintenance of the island’s bridges.

Kauai has 85 bridges, including culverts, county officials said. Twenty-six of these bridges — the ones that are at least 20 feet long — are on the National Bridge Inventory.

Ken Teshima of the county Public Works Department said most of Kauai’s bridges need to be considered for historic listing given their age. He said there are only six bridges on the county’s inventory that don’t meet historic qualifications.

Restoring the bridges is a challenge, said county engineer Larry Dill.

"There are folks that are passionate about these bridges," he said.

He said there also are financial constraints and that the county must follow engineering requirements.

The county is trying to find solutions for the historic Opae­­kaa, Puu­­opae, Kapahi, Hana­­pepe and Kapaia bridges. Dill said some of the plans are being revised after meeting with residents and the Kauai Historic Preservation Review Commission.

He said a study is being done on the need for replacing one-lane bridges with two-lane bridges. The study should be ready in four weeks, he said.

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