DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A bill making its way through the state Senate would require signage warning motorists of steel plates on the road. These steel plates cover a section of South Beretania Street at the intersection with Lauhala Street, just past the Board of Water Supply.
Bill seeks warning for plates on roads
Concern over safety of cyclists and damage to vehicles prompts the measure's creation
Steel plates that checker Honolulu's heavily used roads rattle passing cars and drivers' nerves.
"I feel like my car's not ready every time I go over the bump of a plate -- like my tires are going to pop," said Chandra Vogt, a University of Hawaii-Manoa student who baby-sits all over the island.
Her last car lost its shocks and could not do the daily drive over the plates.
"If there isn't a way to make the plates safer, there should be a warning that they're there," Vogt said.
With 11 large, long-term road projects and many smaller jobs on the roads, drivers complain about the steel plates. Legislators are proposing that contractors use signs at all sites warning drivers of plates to try to reduce problems with "the raised edge presented to oncoming traffic."
Senate Bill 1048 was passed by the Transportation Committee and will be heard next by the Ways and Means Committee.
The city and state allow contractors to determine what signage is necessary, leaving some plates unannounced to drivers. Only Maui County requires warning signs wherever steel plates are used.
The main issue is "making sure the plates are level," said Scott Ishikawa, of the state Department of Transportation. "When it's not flush there's trouble."
But the plates rarely lay flat on the road, and move when vehicles roll over them. Even in the best weather, plates can be dangerous for motorcycles and bikes.
"When motorcycles hit a plate, they can really fly," said Sen. J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai), chairman of the Transportation Committee, who introduced the bill.
Some contractors already use signs. One job on Kapiolani Boulevard from Pensacola to Kamakee streets that began in early February will take at least 12 months to finish, according to the state. But some people say signs will not be enough.
"The state should be watching out for people on their roads," said Justin Hahn, a former bike messenger whose bike was damaged by plates.
Hahn was going 20 mph down King Street when he crossed Alapai Street, turning onto a steel plate when he "fishtailed on the metal and my back tire 'tacoed' -- folded in half." He filed suit against City Hall and was reimbursed $70.
In 2005 the state handed over $172,000 solely for damage done to cars by potholes. It is unknown how much money has been awarded to drivers for steel plate damage.
Some people say sidewalks will be all but blocked by the 5-foot-wide signs.
"People commute on sidewalks, too, not just on roads," said Joey Trisolini, of Bike Punx, a noncompetitive bicycle group. "We can't fix problems for cars by causing problems for people on sidewalks."
Even with signs, there is not much chance the plates can get any safer, according to Daniel Koga, a construction inspector at SSFM International.
"Sometimes we drive pins through the plates to stop them from moving," Koga said. "Other times, we weld them together." The plates move, Koga said, "but they are relatively safe."
Hahn does not think signs will "steady the ground." Signage is not enough "when people are sliding around and breaking parts," he said.