After four years of ongoing troubles associated with travel to Kauai’s north shore, the state is setting in motion plans that will bring more and unprecedented changes to normally sleepy, Hanalei, Kauai. Things are looking good for visitors seeking to enjoy the north shore’s epic beauty for the remainder of this year. After that, work is getting set to commence.
[See our June 2023 update on the Hanalei Bridge work.]
Following two devastating landslides in the past four years, the highway has seen extended periods of closures, followed by one-lane openings with convoys, and traffic jams for hours. It was so bad that for long periods we simply avoided traveling to the north shore. Luckily, that’s been resolved for some time now. This has been worse yet for those who live on the north shore, whose communities had lost normal vehicular access for long periods.
I know, not what we wanted to hear. Your editors like to swim at Hanalei during summer and because of road work in 2021, couldn’t do so often. Getting into and out of Hanalei took a long time. This year it’s been great to be back in the ocean at Hanalei Bay, Kauai, which has been rated one of the best beaches in the USA. Just look at the photo and you’ll see why. But as we drive down to the bridge, we see the hillside area after the landslide in 2021, still needs work. Now we know what the future holds.
On the plus side, there’s a new Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge overlook, and a large parking area that’s going to open soon, with restrooms just before you reach the entrance to Princeville. This will give us all more room to look at the spectacular Hanalei Valley below and its taro fields.
North Shore traffic jams have returned in a different way.
While many months of road closures followed by traffic jams due to road work and alternative one-lane-only traffic in 2021, 2022 has brought an entirely different set of problems. Tourists have returned to Hanalei, and with them have come traffic backups. The combination of a huge number of cars, together with meandering pedestrian traffic and limited sidewalks, has made life challenging.
This past week, the state DOT met with residents and others to reveal a series of repairs and improvements that will once again disrupt traffic. That comes while the state is also promising to help implement traffic calming on the north shore. But is calming enough?
Some outspoken residents would like to see only residents have access to Hanalei and towns beyond. (Don’t worry, that won’t happen). Other issues they are facing include overcrowding at all popular stops and beaches and illegal visitor parking. These are real problems that have been ongoing for years and have resurfaced now that visitors are back in full force and the road is reopened.
Raised crosswalks and speed bumps in Hanalei are being proposed.
One of the state’s DOT plans is to add three speedbumps and five raised crosswalks in the town center. Residents aren’t sure that either of those solutions will be well-tolerated. Regarding speed bumps, some feel that traffic is already so slow at most times that speed bumps may not be needed and would be an added nuisance. The state also proposes another speed bump after Hanalei, in Wainiha.
A traffic signal at the Hanalei Bridge is also under consideration.
The line of traffic heading to the Hanalei bridge is again out of hand. Long waits, depending on the time of day, day of the week, and the season, aren’t unusual. The DOT is therefore proposing a traffic light on both sides of the Hanalei Bridge. It would be of the intelligent variety that senses traffic and is programmed to respond accordingly.
The bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1912 and extensive preservation work was completed in 2003. Being one lane, travelers in both directions are expected to proceed in moderate numbers (6–8 cars) before letting oncoming traffic have the right of way.
The signal would be a huge change for Hanalei, which has never had a stop light.
Major bridge repairs and road remediation will bring more closures and traffic.
Repairs on the Hanalei bridge are needed to correct both damage and corrosion. That will include replacement of support wood structures and repainting, among other things. When that begins, expect it to last for approximately one year. Currently, plans call for the work to be done at night, with the bridge being closed from 11:00 PM to 5:30 AM Sunday–Thursday, for six months in 2023. I suggest adding a year as things move slowly in Hawaii.
A temporary bridge, as was implemented recently in Hanapepe (Kauai) during its bridge repair/construction, wasn’t considered a viable solution, due to permitting issues and the environmental impact.
The state acknowledged that it hasn’t done a good job of maintaining its bridges and accessing federal funding, and has allowed them to slip into disrepair. Yes, you read that right. They missed the funding deadline for the project.
The DOT said that both projects are expected to take just over two years to complete.
Second, work on the Hanalei hill area, the site of last year’s massive landslide, which cut off the rest of the island from the north shore, isn’t complete. The first phase of the repairs is done, but another major project is required to complete slope stabilization and an anchored mesh system. Yet another project to stabilize slopes is still planned for the Waikoko area, although that is not yet finalized and there’s no date planned. While the DOT is saying we should expect 26 months of road work, our experience here is that things always take longer than planned.
Both of these projects will require one-lane road closures of some duration.
Lastly, another stabilization project along the highway near the Hanalei River will address erosion that last year led to a guardrail failure. In addition to that, invasive vegetation has blocked up to half the width of the river in some places. The methodology for this stabilization repair is still under consideration, and it isn’t clear if or how the state can help deal with the vegetation since it is on private property.
What’s your reaction to the planned projects?
Are you more interested in the historic Hanalei bridge repair, a potential first stoplight, or the hillside repair completion? Leave your thoughts and join the discussion.
All photos © Beat of Hawaii.