When people think of traffic issues in Hawai‘i, O‘ahu is usually part of the conversation. But a recent event on Kaua‘i was the latest reminder that the Garden Island also has some challenges on the road. HPR contributing reporter Scott Giarman has more from Kaua‘i.
A couple of Fridays ago, a brush fire just south of the Wailua River closed Kaumuali‘i Highway around three in the morning. Five hours later, the road was re-opened, but traffic didn’t start moving until later in the morning.
Kaua‘i has one main road that circles 80% of the island. And except where it passes one of the island’s towns, there are no alternate routes. That means a brush fire, a traffic accident, or any other emergency simply brings traffic to a standstill.
Old cane-haul roads criss-cross the island and a few are occasionally used during emergencies. But the state is reluctant to spend the money to pave them as alternative routes only for emergencies,and using them is not always an option.
The 2006 Ka Loko dam-break released millions of gallons of water which claimed seven lives and entirely tore away the main road. That area between Anahola and Kīlauea has no alternative routes, leaving helicopter or boat as the only options. North-south traffic on Kauai stood still until the road could be repaired, days later.
Periodically, there is talk of paving the deeply-rutted 11-mile Powerline Trail from Princeville to Kapa‘a.
It hasn’t happened for a combination of reasons: environmental concerns, fears of enabling development of the interior of the island and an ingrained urge to keep Kauai rural.
So, for at least the medium term, there is no alternative: leaving Kaua‘i residents and visitors alike vulnerable to the traffic challenges of a single road.