Līhu‘e Business Association Discusses New Airport Plan With Community
July 28, 2022, 2:40 PM HST
* Updated October 10, 2:17 AM
The Līhu‘e Business Association met Thursday via Zoom to discuss abandoning the Līhu‘e Airport Master Plan and the work Hawai‘i Department of Transportation- Airports Division, or HIDOT-A, to formulate a new plan addressing infrastructure concerns at the facility.
Officials shared their awareness of the antiquated issues plaguing The Līhu‘e Airport, or LIH, and highlighted a thin line between compliance, requirements and the desires of the Garden Isle’s residents. They hope to address these concerns with the Optimization Facility Plan.
“After listening to the community and community leaders, the Optimization Facility Plan looks forward to improving existing facilities, plan accordingly to the county-led Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s Destination Management Action Plan, or DMAP, and with attention to safety and efficiency in travel,” stated HIDOT-A Deputy Director Ross Higashi.
“As a former airport employee, manager and now a deputy, please understand that I’ve noticed the recent lengthy wait times for gates, and observed public parking maxed out during holidays,” Higashi said. “I hate to see the people of Kaua‘i coming to the airport and seeing that there’s no parking.”
The Optimization Facility Plan looks to improve outbound and inbound baggage handling, public parking for travelers and full-time residents including adding electric recharging systems, improve traffic flow throughout the airport, renovate or replace existing infrastructure, enhance safety by consolidating cargo and helicopters and installing a loading bridge at existing gate 10A, which is currently being used to board and deplane passengers from the ground level via air stairs, among other general aviation operations.
The Optimization Facility Plan will take 12-18 months to complete once approved. However, officials noted they are still looking at addressing each concern, problems that could each potentially take about two to three years to complete.
“We want to take each project one at a time,” said Higashi, adding that closing down just one terminal or driving lane would be detrimental to airline activity and the patience of commuters.
Despite expansion efforts at the airport since 1970, both residents and travelers have had to contend with little to no available parking and misperceptions of gate and runway capabilities.
Prior to to Thursday’s Zoom conference, Kaua‘i Now spoke to travelers at the Līhu‘e Airport where one local explained he travels interisland for work and this summer has been tough due to traffic congestion and long waits at security checkpoints.
“I have to go out of my way and arrive hours before my flight just to get through screening and then stand like a sardine at a packed gate,” stated Flaviano Cruz, adding, “I remember when the airport was built in the 70s. It’s not the 70s anymore.”
Other concerns at the airport include parking and lack of multimodal connections to the rest of the island. Officials say they are trying to find a way to get rental car companies to move nearly 3,000 vehicles away from the airport in an effort to create more parking.
“Sure there’s bus transportation, but what about walking alternatives, or the extension of current bike paths from surrounding areas that are safer than Rice Street?” asked one attendee during the Zoom conference who also noted the relocation of rental car facilities.
“There is sufficient room to allow for those connections for those other modes, but no specific details have been done,” stated Higashi. “We made plans to take the rental car parking and make it into public parking. However, it doesn’t appear to double the parking availability.”
Officials say they can’t limit the number of rental cars that come in because business is based on demand, however, it will be considered.
The airport will not extend the runway as highlighted in the earlier Master Plan, but instead, shift the runway away from the ocean. The length will remain the same at 6,500 feet, however, the end of the runway will shift back toward the highway.
The FAA changed the length of the runways by an additional 1,000 feet across the nation. LIH has a nonstandard runway and was the only airport in the nation afforded time to clarify plans.
While some residents in attendance asked whether or not a press release describing the new plan would see the light of day, HIDOT-A Deputy Director Ross Higashi noted there were no plans to address a formal press release.
“We weren’t planning on a press release, but we have been working closely with the Kaua‘i delegation,” stated Higashi adding, “I need to think about it, about how necessary it is.”
The Zoom meeting adjourned with over 80 comments and questions remaining. Higashi said he would work to answer the remaining questions after the meeting.
“We need to come to a consensus to move forward,” stated Higashi. “Bottom line, the airport is aging, it needs to be improved, but anytime we come up with a plan we want to be sure that there’s community input.”
The Līhu‘e Airport completed its first year of operation on Jan. 8, 1951, after the Civil Aeronautics Administration deemed the old Port Allen Airport too small to accommodate two-engine planes in 1944. At the time, the east side airport had the only modern terminal building in the Territory.