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Controversial reopening of Kuhio Highway on Kauai is delayed

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    Storm damage in April 2018 along Kuhio Highway in Wainiha. The state has postponed the reopening of a 2-mile-stretch of Kuhio Highway, which has been closed to non-local traffic for more than a year.

The state’s reopening of a 2-mile-stretch of Kuhio Highway, which has been closed to non-local traffic for more than a year, is now anticipated to take place May 20 — weather permitting.

The state Department of Transportation and Gov. David Ige had previously announced that the road was on track to reopen May 1; however, the state made the decision to postpone the reopening after a site visit Monday to work areas on Kuhio Highway. Residents in the cut-off communities said rain and flooding on Monday had made a portion of the road near Waikoko Bridge impassable for officials, who were inspecting it at the urging of Hawaii Senate President Ronald Kouchi, Rep. Nadine Nakamura (D-Kauai), and Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami.

Kawakami, HDOT Deputy Director for Highways Ed Sniffen, and representatives from the Federal Highway Administration conducted the site visit Monday. During that visit, DOT said officials “identified safety concerns over opening the roadway near Waikoko Bridge.”

“So many people have worked so hard to not only repair Kuhio Highway, but make it more resilient against future events,” Sniffen said in a statement. “We appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to work to ensure the road is safe.”

DOT said 22 major tasks, including the stabilization of the slope at Wainiha Bay and the rebuilding of sections where the embankment below the road was washed away in the disaster, have already been completed by the state and its contractors. However, DOT said Kuhio Highway “will not be reopened until the work at the bridge progresses sufficiently to ensure the safety of the traveling public and our workers.”

In the meantime, residents and others with county permission must continue traveling through the damaged portion in a convoy that moves through checkpoints at regulated times. The 830 or so motorists who join the convoys daily have to plan their schedules accordingly, sometimes breezing through and other times finding distractions to fill long waits.

Bridge work will continue, from 7 p.m. to 5:50 a.m., on Waipa Bridge through May 2. The Waipa bridge will be closed to vehicular traffic after 7 p.m.; however, there will be parking areas on either side of Waipa Bridge and pedestrian access available for those wanting to cross the bridge during night work hours. DOT said it is making arrangements for Hanalei Colony Resort to provide a shuttle for residents between the West Waipa Bridge Park and Ride and Wainiha.

Night work at both Waipa and Waikoko Bridges will resume Monday, May 6 and continue through Thursday, May 16, with exceptions being made on Friday, May 10 to accommodate the Kauai Community College graduation and Sunday, May 12 to accommodate Mother’s Day. DOT said that it anticipates the first of two full weekend bridge closures will occur from 9 p.m. Friday, May 17 through 6 a.m. Monday, May 20.

Flooding April 14-15, 2018, which produced approximately 50 inches of rain in a 24-hour period and caused landslides, left a portion of Kuhio Highway with some 32 emergency repair sites. The ensuing road work cut off Kauai’s north shore beyond Waikoko from the rest of the island, closing Lumahai, Wainiha and Haena to most outsiders. The county made a ruling that vacation rental units were on hiatus to all but their owners; however, most owners had been taking new reservations based on a May 1 reopening.

Restoring access to Kauai’s north shore communities at the gateway to the popular Napali Coast State Wilderness Park and Kalalau Trail has been controversial. Some businesses and residents, especially vacation rental owners, were pleased with the timeline. Ige said most of the feedback that he had received had been from those clamoring for a prompt reopening.

However, the decision to reopen Wednesday had been controversial because the public highway had been slated to reopen before work is completed at the Waioli Stream Bridge, the Waipa Stream Bridge and the Waikoko Stream Bridge. Those advocating for a delay also wanted to give the state Department of Land and Natural Resources a chance to complete repairs and improvements to Ha‘ena State Park, which is still closed. They said the opening of a new parking lot and the kick-off of shuttle service would be critical to enforcing a new master plan that would limit visitation to 900 at the park, which had averaged 2,000 to 3,000 visitors daily.

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