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Kaua?i Mayor Urges State To Postpone Highway Reopening

Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Kaua?i Mayor Derek Kawakami is urging the state to postpone its planned reopening of K?hi? Highway this Wednesday. The flood-damaged road has been closed for nearly a year, and Kawakami says there is still much to be done first. 

A two-mile stretch of road along Kaua?i’s North Shore is still riddled with vehicle check points, construction sites, and flood-damaged homes. Mayor Derek Kawakami recently toured the area.

“It looks like an area that’s still recovering from a disaster, that’s what it looks like,” says Kawakami.

Kawakami wants the state to delay the reopening of K?hi? Highway until the area is prepared for outside traffic. Local residents have limited access now but many oppose fully opening the road Wednesday. 

“Yeah, we’ve been pretty vocal and clear that we don’t think May 1 is the date,” says Kawakami. 

The mayor’s concerned opening up the highway now will exacerbate ongoing county roadwork and bridge repairs. But the state Department of Transportation says $77 million in federal funds are at stake if the road isn’t reopened. 

“We do understand that there are federal requirements that the highway is required to open once it’s deemed safe,” says Kawakami, “Now how you make that determination of when it’s safe is unclear.”

In the meantime, Kawakami says the County is working to minimize the impact of the planned reopening on local communities. Parking fines have increased from $35 to $200, and the county is considering restricting several roads to local traffic only. 

“Let’s remind ourselves that the big problem with that area is that it has an extremely limited capacity that has not been managed,” says Kawakami.

Until now. A new state plan caps the number of visitors to H??ena to 900. Limited parking will be available by online reservation and a community-run shuttle system will also help ease traffic. But none of this will be ready by May 1, 2019. 

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at
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