LIHUE — The administration signed a contract Wednesday morning for a Lihue Bypass Road feasibility study, only to take a lashing from some members of the Kauai County Council in the afternoon for putting money down on a project they believe will likely never go through.
“I don’t support this project at all,” Councilman Tim Bynum said. “I hate throwing away $100,000 of our taxpayers’ money.”
Last year, the council approved the funding for the study. Bynum said he supported the project because he was told a bypass road from Hanamaulu to Lihue was critical to the island’s next landfill, likely to be sited at Maalo, above Hanamaulu.
This year, he said, he was told otherwise, and several council members asked the administration to delay the project.
County engineer Larry Dill said the project is not necessary to the Maalo landfill, but would be a “significant benefit” to it.
He said there are no assurances from the state Department of Transportation there will be funds available for the project, which would potentially cost $46 million, because “they would never assure they have money available for any project 10 years down the road.”
According to Ken Tashima of the Department of Public Works, the administration signed a $450,000 contract with SSFM consulting firm to conduct the study. The county’s share of the contract is $90,000, with the rest coming from federal funding through the state DOT.
Now it’s just a matter of issuing a notice-to-proceed on the contract, and the consultant will have a year to come up with findings and recommendations, including a short list of alternatives, Tashima said.
The first phase of the contract will include data collecting on existing roads, land use, transportation modes and some document research. The final phase will include a feasibility analysis of potential routes and impacts, preliminary engineering, right of way cost estimates and identifying potential permits and clearances, according to Tashima.
He said that depending on the study, the bypass would be 5 to 7 miles long, and could start at Nukolii, north of Hanamaulu, and end at Kukui Grove Center.
Essentially, Tashima said, this is what the study will indicate — it’s a feasibility analysis.
“We don’t even know if federal highways is going to even fund this,” said Tashima, adding the study is one of the processes to get to that point.
Despite lack of assurances, Dill said the “local DOT guys” have done a great job of getting projects ready, and much of the funding available through the federal Statewide Transportation Improvement Program is based on having projects available and ready.
“That is part of what behooves us to have this project ready,” said Dill, adding he recognizes there will be significant challenges, fiscally and engineering wise.
Councilman Gary Hooser questioned why the administration would not use the $100,000 to explore options to alleviate the Kapaa traffic, the “worst” on the island. He said he understands the importance of long-range planning mentioned by Dill, “but the Kapaa corridor is a mess.”
Bynum said that for 25 years, the county spent a lot of money on the Kapaa Relief Route, a project that was abandoned last year and will never be developed, though it is “way more important” than the Lihue bypass.
“This county is full of plans that we spent money on that accomplished almost nothing,” said Bynum.
The Kapaa Relief Route would have gone through a lot of “virgin” territory, making it more environmentally challenging, according to Dill. This proposal, he said, is similar to the Kapaa Bypass Road, as it would take advantage of existing old plantation roads.
“So we’re kind of modeling it after the Kapaa Bypass Road,” he said.
Bynum wanted to know if the project was more important than putting four traffic lanes in front of Coco Palms in Wailua or four lanes from Kauai Community College to the Tree Tunnel.
“Not today, but it will be,” Dill said.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura also had doubts regarding priorities.
“How do you determine priorities without knowing what the big picture is?” she asked Dill.
To Dill, the bypass is a “necessary project that would be a great benefit to the county,” and it has support from the state. He said the county has been in discussions with DOT staff, who are preparing a draft for the state Land Transportation Plan, though he has not seen the draft.
Yukimura told Dill it’s a “dangerous assumption” that the project fits the policy criteria in the plan. She recently attended a meeting on the plan, and still doesn’t know what the policies are or how they are being applied, she said.
Dill said the administration has put a lot of thought into the project, which would greatly benefit Lihue residents by diverting refuse traffic going to the next landfill that otherwise would go through residential neighborhoods.