Thursday, September 13, 2001

America Attacked

Traffic approaching the Nimitz Gate at Pearl Harbor today
was backed up from the east past the airport under the viaduct.

Traffic still slow
at military bases

Congestion eases up somewhat,
but gate security checks
still delay morning drivers

By Gregg K. Kakesako and B.J. Reyes |

The nearly 3,000 civilians who returned to work at Pearl Harbor today after a two-day layoff still were caught in traffic that crawled, despite a reduction in the military's level of security.

Yesterday, Pearl Harbor workers had to sit in their cars for up to five hours before they could get to the only gate that was open to have their cars inspected.

At Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa, workers trying to get into the only gate the Army was using waited in line as long as eight hours -- a few eventually giving up and never reporting in.

This morning, the Navy decided to open three gates at Pearl Harbor, but some workers still found themselves sitting in their cars as long as three hours at Nimitz Gate, until traffic was diverted to two other gates on Kamehameha Highway.

The level of security at Pearl Harbor and other military
bases was downgraded to Threatcon Charlie.

Cars at the Nimitz Gate were backed up all the way to the H-1 freeway to the airport off-ramp at one point, just after the 6:30 a.m. work shift started.

That's because, even with the change in the military's threat level, more people reported to work this morning at Pearl Harbor and Army installations. Civilian workers at all island military bases were told to return to their jobs.

Yesterday, only essential workers were told to check in.

Bobby Nakai, an electrician from Waianae, described his commute to the Nimitz Gate in one word: "Bad."

He said his commute usually takes 45 minutes, but by 8 a.m. he had already been on the road an hour and half. Nakai said he didn't make any extra preparations because "it doesn't make a difference."

Another Pearl Harbor commuter, Shawn Colson, of Halawa, said he had been waiting in line at the Nimitz Gate for more than a hour.

But not everyone had a bad commute morning.

Willie Santos, a civilian crane worker from Kailua, said he had been in line at the Nimitz Gate for only 20 minutes, although it usually only takes him a couple of minutes to get through. But for Santos, it was "not too bad."

A hastily made sign announcing the closure of the
Arizona Memorial was tacked onto this stop sign
at the site after Tuesday's bombing attacks.

The continued heightened security situation prompted meetings between Pearl Harbor union heads and Mayor Jeremy Harris to step up bus service to Pearl Harbor.

Ben Toyama, Western area vice president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said Harris was asked if it was possible "to design a bus program to drop more people off at the front gate" rather than go into the shipyard.

Car checks and searches are time-consuming and city buses, which now are allowed to enter Pearl Harbor, get caught in the wait, he said.

City buses could drop workers at the gate and catch Navy shuttle buses to their work sites, Toyama said. "We hope to alleviate this problem because this 'threatcon' level will be with us for a long time."

Effects of high-level military security were especially pronounced yesterday at Schofield Barracks and the Tripler Army Medical Center-Puuloa Road exit off the Moanalua Freeway, where some parents dropping children off at either Moanalua middle or elementary schools could not stand to wait in traffic any longer.

At Schofield Barracks, the line of cars snaked from Lyman Gate on Kunia Road to Kamehameha Highway to Del Monte's tourist pineapple operation.

Army civilian workers and soldiers, who were supposed to report to work because they were considered essential, were in line for more than eight hours.

Other soldiers and civilians trying to get to Schofield from housing in the Wheeler Army Airfield locations just a block away waited an average of six hours before they could get to the only open gate. In some cases, soldiers just parked their cars on the road and walked or biked to work.

In Moanalua yesterday, "kids were getting dropped off in the traffic, and parents are saying, 'The hell with this,' and they're letting kids walk," said Moanalua Middle School teacher Alex Kendrick. "We've got kids running across four-lane roads, and that's just unacceptable."

It was better today.

Moanalua Middle School Principal Caroline Wong said more than half of her staff had arrived by 7:15 a.m. Classes started at 8 a.m. Some teachers anticipated traffic delays and arrived as early as 5 a.m.

"People have made adjustments," Wong said.

James Laroya, the school's safety resource officer, said he was surprised how smoothly things were running today. "It's much, much better than it was yesterday. It's very normal."

Motorists said yesterday's traffic was backed up not just on freeways like Moanalua and H-1, but on surface streets such as Salt Lake Boulevard. Other reports indicated that traffic near almost every military base, including Wheeler Army Airfield, Fort Shafter, Schofield Barracks, Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base spilled onto civilian streets and highways, making for traffic nightmares.

One North Shore resident wrote a detailed and lengthy e-mail to the Star-Bulletin about her 2 1/2-hour journey into town.

"My morning commute seemed to move along as usual until I reached the Dole Plantation on Kamehameha Highway," wrote Yvette N. Fernandez. "It was all STOP and no GO. The time was 8 a.m. The time passed another 20 minutes, and I had only moved as far as Poamoho Plantation Housing."

She adds that "the policy for one checkpoint gate in and one gate out security at Schofield and Wheeler Airfield had crippled the roadways moving through to downtown Honolulu."

Fernandez said she finally arrived at her job on Kapiolani Boulevard at 10:10 a.m.

Honolulu Police Department Traffic Division Head Major Robert Prasser said motorists must be patient and plan ahead. Police are working with the military; however, Prasser stresses that there is only so much HPD can do.

"We can try to escort people around traffic, direct them to drive on the shoulder, that sort of thing," Prasser said. "But if you can carpool, do it. If you don't have to be somewhere, stay home, and that's one less car on the road.

"We need to appeal to the public for patience."

Tripler officials said the medical center has tried to stagger its scheduling of patients to ease the number of people coming to the hospital. Yesterday, it was estimated that about 50 percent of Tripler patients never showed up.

"There were lots of cancellations and a lot of people who arrived late," said Tripler spokeswoman Margaret Tippy. "One pregnant woman was in labor, and her husband was frantic trying to get her up the hill.

"We got her to the delivery room fine ... but it's a constantly changing situation."

Tippy said some clinics are giving phone consultations instead of seeing patients in person if the situation allows them to do that. Patients arriving on buses or by taxi can take a shuttle from the gates up to the hospital if need be, she said.

Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Antone
contributed to this report.

E-mail to City Desk

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