Tuesday, September 16, 2003

1 Nimitz lane to be
open for contraflow

The lane will stretch from
the Keehi Interchange to Pier 32

A Nimitz Highway contraflow lane that could relieve increased morning traffic congestion due to the bus strike will open for a four-month test beginning Sept. 29.

One Ewa-bound lane will be switched to town-bound traffic where congestion is heaviest -- from the Keehi interchange off the airport viaduct to Pier 32 near Hilo Hattie at Pacific Street.

"If everybody follows the rules, we think it's going to help with traffic flow," said Scott Ishikawa, state Department of Transportation spokesman. "But at the same time, we're a little concerned about everybody being a little overenthusiastic right now because they're all frustrated with the traffic because of the bus strike."

The announcement came yesterday during a 3-week-old Oahu bus strike when traffic has been unusually heavy. But Ishikawa said the timing of the project, which has been on the books for years, is coincidental.


The contraflow lane will have the same requirements as the H-1 ZipLane during the bus strike: a minimum of two people per vehicle between 4:30 and 8:45 a.m. After the end of the strike, hours may change to 5 to 7 a.m. with a minimum of three people. From 7 to 8:30 a.m., two people per vehicle may be permitted, Ishikawa said.

The $1 million project, which includes construction and operating costs for four months, will cost $30,000 a month to run thereafter.

A potential bottleneck is where drivers in the contraflow lane must cross back to regular lanes just before Sand Island Access Road, to allow Ewa-bound traffic to turn left. Contraflow drivers then cross back immediately after Sand Island. The Transportation Department is keeping both left-turn lanes to Sand Island open to allow heavy trucks to turn left.

Drivers will not be allowed to make mauka-bound left turns from the contraflow lane, but will be permitted to do so from regular left-turn lanes.

Contraflow lane traffic must, therefore, stop at newly installed traffic lights at Kalihi Street and Waiakamilo and Puuhale roads to allow for turns.

Ewa-bound drivers will be restricted from turning left onto Kalihi Street and Waiakamilo Road during contraflow hours, in addition to already-restricted Puuhale and Mokauea streets.

The Transportation Department is concerned about pedestrians crossing the highway.

Special-duty police officers will be posted near Puuhale Elementary School, at the school's request, to ensure the safety of schoolchildren. Officers will also be posted at Kalihi Street and Waiakamilo Road to discourage drivers from making illegal left turns.

The Transportation Department will test the contraflow lane for four months, and if it is successful in reducing commute times, the department will request funding for another eight months, Ishikawa said.

Area businesses have raised concerns about the changes harming their businesses, Ishikawa said.

"I assume it's going to cause a clog in the morning, since it would cut down to two lanes going Ewa-bound," said Ku'uhaku Park, governmental relations manager at Horizon Lines (formerly CSX), a shipping company on Sand Island Access Road.

Most of Island Movers' trucks travel from near Sand Island to Kalihi Street and catch the freeway, and would not be hampered by the contraflow, operations manager Gerald Yoshimoto said.

Transportation officials will hold an informational meeting 7 p.m. Sept. 25 at Puuhale Elementary School, at 345 Puuhale Road.


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