Drive time
cut 50% for some

More than 6,000 commuters
used H-3 today, clearing
Likelike and Pali

By Susan Kreifels

Christmas came early for more than 6,000 Oahu commuters who saw their travel time cut up to half by using the new H-3 freeway this morning.

And those who still crossed the island on Pali and Likelike highways faced 21 percent less traffic as H-3 got its first tryout at morning rush hours.

"It's perfect for me -- I'm really happy," said Kory Aoki, who commuted from her Kaneohe home to Aiea Intermediate School in 15 minutes instead of the 30 it used to take her on Likelike Highway. "It cuts lots of stress."

Jay Wells sliced 15-25 minutes off his workday trip from Kailua to Naval Communications Area Master Station Pacific outside Wahiawa. Normally it takes 60-70 minutes, and today he arrived at work in 45 minutes.

"It was like driving on a holiday when the city and state guys are off," Wells said. "The scenery even then was breathtaking. There are no traffic lights like Pali and Likelike. Even in the tunnel, if somebody stalls there are ways you can go around."

Traffic moved smoothly toward Halawa this morning, said Marilyn Kali, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation.

Between 5 and 9 a.m., the peak travel hours, 6,381 vehicles used the $1.3 billion roadway connecting the island's Windward and Leeward sides.

That meant 21 percent less traffic on Pali and Likelike, which normally see a combined 30,000 vehicles during those hours, Kali said.

Transportation officials had estimated 12,000-18,000 vehicles would use H-3 during a 24-hour period. But Kali said this morning's numbers indicate that figure will be exceeded.

Kali reported no backups or accidents by 10 a.m., and traffic was clipping along at an average 55 mph.

Video cameras have been placed throughout the tunnel for 24-hour monitoring, Kali said.

The tunnels also have specially designed tiles that can be cleaned easily and reflect light better.

"If anyone tries to vandalize, it should be caught on video," Kali said. "If we see them, we intend to arrest them immediately."

The capacity for the new road is 4,000 vehicles per hour, which Kali said should handle traffic smoothly.

Kali said about 50,000 cars a day drove H-3 over the weekend.

Yesterday, traffic backed up in the early afternoon as sightseers pulled over to the shoulders to appreciate the scenic views.

Police were called out to keep vehicles off the shoulders.

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