Kauai bridge limits
strain north shore

New weight limits will hamper
emergency and utility vehicles

LIHUE >> The state Highways Division has again lowered the tonnage limits on the eight one-lane bridges on Kauai's north shore, which will cause major problems for heavy emergency vehicles.


The bridges on State Route 560 along the five-mile stretch between Hanalei and the west end of the road at Kee Beach now range in weight limits from 10 tons down to 6 tons.

And the state will no longer issue waivers to emergency and overweight utility vehicles.

The Kauai Fire Department will ignore the new weight limits if there is a structure fire. But the telephone, electric and propane companies no longer will be able to cross the bridges with their heavy vehicles.

Mayor Bryan Baptiste said yesterday he has decided to allow the 20-ton fire truck stationed at Princeville to cross the bridges in the event of structure fires, even though it is more than three times the weight limit on some of the bridges.

Because of low water pressure on the north shore, any fire truck used in the area must be capable of carrying a large supply of water, Baptiste said.

Firefighters will use a lighter truck to respond to first-aid calls, he said.

Kauai County has ordered a new, lighter fire truck to serve the north shore, but that one still weighs 12 tons, twice the lowest limit of any bridge. It is not clear when the new truck will arrive, Baptiste said.

Utility companies, which in the past were granted waivers, will no longer be able to ignore the weight limits and all say the weight limits will cause problems.

Glenn Takenouchi, Kauai branch manager of the Gas Co., said he was working on a plan yesterday to continue to serve several hundred customers west of Hanalei.

Jack Leavitt, who heads engineering operations for the Kauai Island Utility Co-op, which provides all the electricity on Kauai, said the weight restrictions will be a serious problem in the event of a storm or a vehicle knocking out electric poles.

He predicted power outages may become lengthy on the north shore.

Winslow Tanabe, Verizon's Kauai manager, said the weight limits have been a problem in the past and the new inability to obtain waivers will affect emergency service calls.

Meanwhile, the Highways Division is considering two alternatives to strengthen the bridges:

>> Steel beams could upgrade five of the bridges at a cost of $4.7 million.
>> Six of the bridges could be made stronger by placing prefabricated steel panels over the existing bridge structures at a cost of $4.3 million.

It is unclear whether the funds are available, and Baptiste said the state will have to give the bridges an emergency status to provide timely repairs. Construction would require one to two years, he said.

Baptiste also issued a public call for more flexibility from residents of the north shore who have fought to keep the bridges small to slow development.

He noted that the latest downgrading may mean higher home insurance costs for north shore residents or possibly no insurance at all.

"We can no longer have the philosophical debate between safety and maintaining rural character," Baptiste said.

State Department of Transportation



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