Traffic update hot line considered
Obviously a lot of people were upset about sitting on the freeway during a recent closure due to an accident. To my knowledge, Hawaii is the only place that completely shuts down a highway so thoughtlessly. On Maui, there is a widely publicized phone number that you can call to check road conditions (808-986-1200). On more than one occasion, calling this number has allowed me to find out if a road was closed or if there was just a delay of some sort, and then take appropriate action. If there is such a number on Oahu, I am not aware of it, and I would assume others are not either. Why not? Making a number like that known, and keeping the recording dynamic could save a lot of needless frustration until the state can figure out how to do a better job of directing traffic during emergencies.
Answer: The state Department of Transportation is considering setting up a 511 hot line, already used in many mainland cities to give drivers an update on major road closures, said transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa.
On the city side, "A traffic hot line is something we'll certainly look at" to better inform the public, said Mark Matsunaga, spokesman for Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration.
One reason a hot line may not have been considered before is "the good job some of the radio stations and other media have done to keep motorists apprised of the latest traffic hot spots," Matsunaga said.
He also said the Internet provides additional ways to get information.
There were lessons learned in the aftermath of the damaged Aiea pedestrian overpass, in which thousands of commuters were locked in a massive traffic jam all over Oahu. An Army tractor-trailer carrying a crane was traveling on the freeway without required permits when the crane struck the overpass on Sept. 5.
COURTESY STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Cracks in the damaged Aiea pedestrian overpass were more extensive than originally thought, as shown in this photo taken by a state Department of Transportation engineer.
"In the event we have to shut down the entire freeway again for an emergency, we will contact state Civil Defense to get out updates through the TV and radio airwaves," Ishikawa said. "Because many of the radio stations went to automated format after 6 p.m., that will probably be the main way to help get the word out next time we have a catastrophe right before afternoon rush hour."
But the Transportation Department took exception to the criticism that the freeway was shut down "thoughtlessly."
"The closure was done to protect the public for safety reasons," Ishikawa said.
He provided close-up photos of the damaged overpass, revealing that the cracks were more extensive than originally thought.
"Vibrations caused by passing traffic along the viaduct would have split and brought down the mauka side of the overpass, since the Army truck hit it square in the middle," he said. "While we will look at ways to keep the public better informed, the reason for shutting down the freeway was to protect the public."
Meanwhile, it may not be as convenient, but the Honolulu Police Department, working with the city Department of Information Technology, has a continually updated Web site of traffic incidents throughout Oahu.
When a traffic accident or incident is reported, it is logged in by HPD's Computer-Aided Dispatch center, explained Sgt. Robert Lung. Then, it's automatically transmitted to the city and posted online at http://www4.co.honolulu.hi.us/hpdtraffic/.
The site has been operating for more than a year and is an attempt by HPD to have some kind of traffic alert system.
"The purpose of establishing this was to notify the public" of potential road blocks, Lung said. It was done "in lieu of any station that you can turn to, which would give you updates of closures and crashes. ... (Such information) is the biggest thing lacking. ..."
The idea for a 511 system first came up several years ago, but didn't get anywhere here, Lung noted. Among other things, cost was a factor.
For the time being, although it would not be useful for someone already on the road, the Web site gives an interesting overview of collisions, stalled vehicles, parking violations, etc., on Oahu roadways over a 24-hour period.
"It's just raw information," Lung said. "It's not perfect, but it does give essential information -- this is what happened at a particular location."
It is current information for the past 24 hours.
Some cities on the mainland, such as Los Angeles, have more sophisticated systems that provide more details, such as the severity of an accident and whether the accident site has been cleared, Lung said.
Honolulu does not have that capability, although "we would like to enhance (the current system) further," he said. Again, however, "it comes down to money."
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