Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, August 3, 1999

Tunnel under
Honolulu Harbor

IMAGINE a visitor arriving at Waikiki from Honolulu Airport who is able to avoid the industrial area now traveled and ride mostly along shoreline parks, first Sand Island's, then Ala Moana Park.

Just this is in the planning stage, fulfilling a goal of Mayor Jeremy Harris. It is being discussed now with affected property owners. It could be laid conceptually before the City Council by the end of this year.

It goes well beyond being just a tourist approach to Waikiki, of course. It's a way for all Leeward traffic headed in that direction to by-pass downtown Honolulu and the Iwilei industrial area.

Cost? Hundreds of millions -- no firm figure yet -- but possibly defrayed by 50- to 80-percent federal aid.

Benefits? Less traffic pressure on Nimitz Highway in downtown Honolulu. More area for greenery along the downtown waterfront. Overall increased and better traffic flow.

The key element? A traffic tunnel under the entrance to Honolulu Harbor. It would go underground from the end of a road across Sand Island, connect underground between Piers 1 and 2 and emerge to connect with both South Street and Ala Moana Boulevard near Fort Armstrong.

Is it doable? Yes. Similar tunnels take BART under San Francisco Bay, cross to Fort McHenry from Baltimore and include the new Ted Williams Tunnel in Boston. They all are designed by Parsons, Brinkerhoff, Quade and Douglas (PB for short), the firm retained for the Honolulu study.

Imagine a giant cinder block. This one would be concrete and metal, however, as big as a football field --300 feet long, 70 feet wide and 24 feet high, divided in the middle for two lanes of traffic each way.

Such blocks, laid end to end, would be the basic sections of the tunnel. A trench would be dug. The blocks would be floated over the proper site, filled with water and carefully submerged into their exact destination. When all were connected, they would be pumped dry and, eureka, a four-lane traffic tunnel would be born.

The Coast Guard might want the tunnel sunk to 60 feet below the harbor surface so there would be no interference with big ship traffic. The result would be a 4.5 percent grade entering and leaving the tunnels, comparable to University Avenue at Date Street, says PB's man in Hawaii, Robert H. Braman.

THE cheaper route across Sand Island would be via the existing four-lane highway widened to six lanes. The more attractive route would border the Sand Island shoreline ribbon park just as Ala Moana borders Ala Moana Park. The higher cost of the park border highway gets my vote for its long-term esthetic benefits.

The entrance to the by-pass would be through a much-improved intersection at Nimitz Highway and Sand Island Access Road. This area now suffers big traffic backups.

If the present bridge at the airport/ewa end of Sand Island should need to be removed to permit one-way ship traffic through Honolulu Harbor, a tunnel could be built there, too. This would be under state auspices, also with federal aid.

I contend the long-term benefits from building the tunnel and park border route will prove as wise as staking out the site for Kapiolani Park more than a century ago.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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