STAR-BULLETIN / 2007
The Zipper Lane open on the H-1 freeway.
Zipper Lane can’t zip up much tighter
The Zipper Lane barriers that line the H-1 freeway west seem to be placed on the shoulder in an inconsistent staging area when not deployed. Lines next to the Jersey barriers (concrete median barriers) were painted to guide the Zip Mobile when it is to be opened. When the Zipper Lane is closed, why can't the Zipper barrier be placed as close to the Jersey barrier as is feasible? At certain times between Kaimakani Street and the Pearl City offramp, when the Zipper Lane is closed, you can see the painted line, but the barrier is approximately three feet away from it and just inches away from the shoulder lane line. Accidents happen colliding with the barriers and obviously the barriers were too close to the traveling lane. The state Department of Transportation was made aware of this, but no action has been taken to change this in the last eight months. Can you help correct this?
Answer: It's not as easy, nor as cut-and-dry, as it may seem when it comes to moving those Zipper Lane sections, which weigh about a ton each, according to the DOT.
Combine that with a 40,000-pound, snakelike machine and a freeway that's relatively narrow in the Leeward area and you've got a situation in which the barriers may indeed be parked very close to the traffic lane in some spots.
For now, that's not going to change, according to DOT spokesman Scott Ishikawa.
Also, while the Zipper barrier may be a foot and a half, or less, away from the left traffic lane out past Pearl City, he said the DOT hasn't had any complaints or reports about vehicles hitting the barriers because of their proximity to the left lane. He recalled two or three accidents in which cars struck the barriers, but apparently for other reasons.
There are a couple of major factors that determine how close the Zipper barrier is placed next to the median barrier, Ishikawa explained.
When not deployed, the Zipper barrier is placed along a white, one-inch guide line, located on the median-side of a yellow, four-inch line that marks the far left traffic lane.
The barrier will vary in distance from both the yellow lane line and the median barrier depending on the configuration of the freeway, especially from the Kaimakani Street overpass near Aiea to the Pearl City exit, Ishikawa said.
The barrier -- as well as the guide line -- may end up being close to the yellow lane line because of "little space" between the yellow line and the median barrier.
There is much more space along the airport viaduct to park the Zipper "blocks" closer to the median and further from the left lane, Ishikawa said.
Along the narrower stretch near the Aiea/Pearl City viaduct, the space between the Zipper barrier and the left lane line is not much -- about five feet, he said.
"We've basically maxed out the space along the Pearl City viaduct, with five to six lanes heading Ewa-bound to accommodate the traffic heading west," he said. "It gets more complicated in some sections of the viaduct where there is barely room for a right shoulder."
Logistically, the 60-foot-long Zip Mobile can't be operated at too sharp an angle. That means, because of the lack of space, the Zipper barrier will remain parked about two feet away from the median from Kaamilo to the Pearl City/Waimalu offramp, Ishikawa said.
In that section, the Zipper Lane is only about one foot to one and a half foot away from the left lane line, and in one section just past the Pearl City exit, it is "almost up to the edge of the yellow line," he acknowledged.
Ishikawa said if the DOT were to restripe the lanes toward the right shoulder, giving more space to the Zipper barrier, that would put drivers in a potentially unsafer situation -- closer to the viaduct guardrail and a 40-foot drop.
Also because of safety reasons, when the Zipper Lane is deployed, the blocks have to be slightly farther away from the median to provide sufficient room for Zipper Lane drivers heading into town in the morning, so they don't hit the median, he said.
Another factor regarding the placement of the Zipper barrier is the skill of the drivers in operating the Zipper machine.
Two Zipper machine drivers are involved in moving the barriers -- one at each end of the vehicle.
One driver picks up the barriers at the front end of the vehicle and the other driver lays down the barriers at the back end. "It's almost like driving a snake" at 3 to 5 mph, Ishikawa said.
It normally takes about six months for an operator to become proficient in handling the Zipper machine, he said.
Given all that, the situation for now is "the best as it can be," he said.
Got a question or complaint?
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