Harbor tunnel would stem river of cars on freeway
When the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Gordon Lum came to Asing Park in Ewa on Monday, he solicited comments from the audience regarding the Oahu Regional Transportation Plan that is now being updated. This process -- soliciting our opinions about modes of transportation relief the public favors -- is done every five years. It sets the stage for the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization's Policy Committee that will meet in early 2006 to decide which projects to include in the transportation plan that is to take us through the year 2025. Only these projects -- those that the Policy Committee endorses and includes in the plan -- will become eligible for additional federal funding.
It didn't take long for residents in attendance to weigh in on this process. Besides support for bike lanes, tolls, rails, bridges, ferry services, new roads and widening existing ones, an overall sense of urgency was expressed to get them all in as soon as possible. Concept No. 3 -- using the Pearl Harbor corridor to construct a bridge or tunnel through the harbor -- and Concept No. 4 -- rail -- were favored by the majority of those who spoke during the meeting.
Some of the reasons to support a tunnel under Pearl Harbor that would connect the Ewa Plain with downtown are:
» Underwater tunnels fare better against the onslaughts of earthquakes and other catastrophic events, compared to our bridges and highways.
» Evacuation routes for the Ewa Plain are limited and restrictive; a tunnel would serve as a viable alternative.
» The technology exists to construct tunnels that can be built in the type of substrate present along the coast and harbor inlet, as well as building the tunnel at a depth and possessing the structural properties to allay military concerns.
» Portals to enter and exit the tunnel can be constructed on land without having to relocate existing residences or impose upon the military.
» The tunnel can be built independently without impeding the flow of traffic on existing roads during its construction.
» The tunnel would pose minimal blight upon the environment, compared to bridges or double-decking roadways.
» A tunnel can be built and operated with private funds utilizing the toll concept.
» Tunnel usage would save commuters both time and fuel.
When you close your eyes and envision another 300,000 cars on West Oahu's roads by 2025, it is hard to imagine our island without another route that takes us off the H-1 freeway. Eventually, I see the H-1 resembling a river of steel -- a flow of cars so thick the ride will be like gliding through a stagnant pool of exhaust fumes. Such conditions could indeed plague us if we don't heed the message that our driving time will most likely double by 2025 even with the North-South Road, Kapolei Parkway, ferry service and rail options in full swing.
We have two county seats on Oahu, one in Kapolei and the other in town. A new judiciary building and a new four-year college campus are on the way in Kapolei. Add the possibility of homeporting an aircraft carrier in Kalaeloa, and the tunnel concept emerges as a necessity rather than wishful thinking.
Having the tunnel concept included in the plan would allow federal dollars to be expended to get the planning phases going -- route location, environmental studies and eventually design. For instance, a 10-mile tunnel from near Fort Weaver Road with a portal near Iroquois Point Road or Renton Road on what is now farmland could connect Kapolei traffic via Roosevelt Avenue and go underneath a short segment of Navy property to Kakaako. This route would avoid the H-1/ H-2 merge and the mess surrounding Sand Island and Nimitz Highway, and would operate like any other toll road in existence throughout the mainland.
A tunnel could take thousands of motorists off H-1, improving conditions for commuters from Waianae, Makakilo, Waipahu, Wahiawa, Mililani through Pearl City and beyond.
I see the tunnel as merely another road, albeit underground. Certainly, we can all agree that we do need more roads. The best part is that the overall construction and operation expenses of a tunnel through Pearl Harbor would be borne by a private developer that would recoup its money over time on the revenues collected from the toll.
And if you think our congressional delegation is unable to attain federal funding for a tunnel, consider the recently passed $286.4 billion transportation bill; it contained a $100 million federal grant for a freight tunnel under New York Harbor. The irony is that the mayor of New York and the Port Authority didn't even request the funds and are not endorsing the project. The states of New Jersey and New York will sit on that money while we sit in traffic.
The Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization will accept public comments on regional transit plans until Oct. 15. OMPO can be contacted at 587-2015 or through its Web site at www.oahumpo.org
Rida Cabanilla (D,Waipahu-Ewa) is the assistant majority floor leader in the state House.