It wasn’t long ago that the cacophonous chorus of roosters strutting around like they own the place was the only disturbance to the slow pace of life in Hanalei, Wainiha and Haena, a string of tucked-away neighborhoods in the farthest reaches of Kauai’s north shore.

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Longtime residents grew up experiencing rural Hawaii life at its most idyllic. Others have experienced it only in bursts after landslides in April 2018 and March 2021 shut down the lone road that winds through this rural region, isolating entire communities from the rest of the island for months. Another glimpse of a quieter life returned when the Covid-19 pandemic abruptly halted tourism.

Today, more jarring than the feral fowl ruckus, are the bottlenecks of tourist traffic that clog narrow streets and, in the absence of sidewalks, congest road shoulders with pedestrian hoards.

On Wednesday, state transportation officials unpacked eight major road repair and improvement projects and vowed at a public meeting to do something to calm the speed of traffic on the north shore. But residents, agitated by the sheer volume of people and cars, found no solutions to the problem of overtourism that loomed large over the two-and-a-half-hour discussion.

“We need to stop these cars from coming down here,” said Lehua Listman of Wainiha. “To me, traffic calming in Hanalei would be reducing the cars in Hanalei because bringing this many cars into Hanalei is not sustainable. How about you can only come into Hanalei with your car if you live out here?”

Traffic jams, not enough parking stalls and pedestrians marching along the fringes of Kuhio Highway in Hanalei are growing community concerns. Allan Parachini/Civil Beat/2020

But transportation officials weren’t there to propose solutions to the visitor industry’s intrusion on the daily lives of residents fed up with traffic jams, overcrowded beaches and illegal parking. They were there to talk about fixing the region’s roads and bridges.

“Our ultimate goal is to protect the roadway, to make sure the road doesn’t fall into the river,” said Eric Fujikawa, a design engineer for the state Department of Transportation.

Many of the 60 people gathered for the presentation were strongly critical of a suggestion to slow down traffic in Hanalei by adding a series of five raised crosswalks and three speed bumps along the section of Kuhio Highway that cuts through the heart of the town.

“We don’t need speed bumps that cause anxiety,” said Holly Lewis of Haena. “All of us who live out here, we don’t speed by our children’s school. You’re creating a really hectic drive for us who live here and need to drive by all the time. It’s so backed up anyway that it’s a crawl most of the time. It’s not even possible to be speeding. So what’s the point?”

State transportation officials also proposed adding a speed bump farther down the highway in front of Wainiha Country Market. But instead, several meeting attendees pressed transportation officials to exchange 25 mph signs with 5 mph signs — or simply do away with speed limit signage in that area altogether.

What’s happening now, according to environmental activist ​​Makaala Kaaumoana, is that law-obeying tourists see a 25 mph sign and take it as an invitation to speed up.

Another proposed solution to traffic congestion presented by DOT officials is a Hanalei Bridge traffic signal with live time sensors that would be responsive to gridlock that can stretch for miles. It would mark a first for this town with zero traffic lights.

DOT officials played video of traffic simulations with and without a bridge signal, illustrating how this addition could help motorists get in and out of Hanalei faster when traffic is thick.

A bird’s-eye view of a devastating landslide on Kuhio Highway in April 2018 between Hanalei and Wainiha on Kauai’s north shore. DLNR/2018

While the series of traffic-calming measures were merely proposals on which the DOT requested public feedback, critical repair work that’s slated to begin early next year dominated the rest of the meeting.

Repairs to address damage and severe corrosion on the Hanalei Bridge are expected to last about a year. During that time, the bridge will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. every Sunday through Thursday for a period of six months.

The DOT considered building a temporary bridge to avoid nightly road closures but decided against it due to associated environmental impacts and permitting requirements.

Kids skateboard and ride bikes along a damaged stretch of Kuhio Highway that passes through Wainiha and Haena. Allan Parachini/Civil Beat/2018

At Hanalei Hill — the site of the March 2021 landslide that cut off Hanalei, Wainiha and Haena residents from doctors, pharmacies, jobs, schools and other essential services for months — the DOT plans to continue slope stabilization work using what’s called a soil nail anchor mesh system. It’s the same technique used to address a massive landslide in Wainiha after the historic 2018 flood that occurred during a storm that set a national rainfall record.

Similar slope stabilization work is slated for Waikoko, although officials said funding is not yet secure for this project. If both hillside stabilization projects slated to begin early next year move forward, however, they will together take about 26 months to complete. And they’ll require one-lane road closures.

A riverbank stabilization project is scheduled to address erosion threatening Kuhio Highway along a stretch of the Hanalei River. Caused by occasional flooding and overgrown hau bush on the Hanalei Bison Ranch property that’s choking half the width of the river in some places, erosion last year led to a portion of the highway guardrail falling into the river.

Transportation officials presented many options to address the highway’s erosion problem. All of them came with pros and cons, and most were met by the majority of meeting participants with skepticism over whether they could withstand the next serious flood.

Adding rocks onto the riverbank to stabilize the embankment, for example, is a solution with a natural aesthetic, it’s flexible enough to move as the stream naturally shifts and it could function as an aquatic habitat. But installing the rocks would require engineers to temporarily reduce stream flow with a cofferdam. The rocks would also encroach into the stream channel.

A less aesthetically pleasing option, but one that would avoid stream channel encroachment and the need to interfere with stream flow, calls for driving a vertical wall of sheet pile into the ground along the riverbank.

None of the proposed solutions seek to address the problem of the out-of-control hau bush growth on private property that’s choking the river and causing the highway to erode, a circumstance that meeting participants asked about repeatedly.

“Our focus and responsibility is to stabilize the road,” said the DOT’s Kauai District Engineer Larry Dill. “With the hau bush, my understanding, by law, is that property owners are supposed to take care of their land. To go ahead and do a hau bush cleaning of the whole river is a much bigger project. We might participate in something like that, but it wouldn’t be a DOT project or in our jurisdiction to do something like that.”

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