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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 29, 2001

Growing congestion frustrates 'Ewa commuters

 •  Map: Awaiting north-south road

A continuous stream of headlights illuminates Fort Weaver Road, 'Ewa's main access.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Central OÎahu Writer

The 'Ewa Plain, once covered with bountiful sugar cane, today sprouts residential developments.

The area's population has more than doubled in the past 10 years in keeping with urban planners' long-term strategy to shift more people and jobs to Central and Leeward O'ahu.

 •  The 'Ewa Neighborhood Board will vote again on the proposed building moratorium at its next meeting, 7 p.m., Dec. 13, at the 'Ewa Beach Public and School Library, 91-950 North Road.
But transportation improvements have not kept up with growth.

There is still only one main access road out of 'Ewa. A second access route to deal with the additional drivers heading into town each morning may not be ready for another five years. And the traffic just keeps getting worse.

Fed up with what is considered to be one of O'ahu's worst traffic situations, the 'Ewa Neighborhood Board has taken a stand, albeit a largely symbolic one. The board voted last month to ask city officials to halt all building in 'Ewa and to withhold approval from any further development until the traffic problems are resolved.

"Someone out here had to put their foot down," said 'Ewa board chairman Jeff Alexander.

For 'Ewa resident Daniel Arakaki and others, the daily commute has become a nightmare.

"They call it a fast-growing town, but it's still the same old road," said Arakaki, who leaves his house at 5 in the morning to get to his Kalihi job by 6.

Arakaki crawls through 30 minutes of traffic along the four-lane, five-mile stretch of Fort Weaver Road, while also dealing with a dozen stoplights along the way. When he finally gets through that mess, he enters the H-1 Freeway to head into town.

"To reach Kalihi by 6 a.m., it takes me longer to drive along Fort Weaver Road to the H-1 than it takes me to go from the H-1 into town; you leave any later in the mornings, you'll really be stuck along Fort Weaver," Arakaki said. "Each year it gets worse and worse."

According to the 2000 Census, the 'Ewa Beach/'Ewa population increased to 22,326 — a 131 percent increase — from 9,677 in 1990. An additional 9,000 housing units are under way or projected for construction in subdivisions along Fort Weaver Road during the next 15 to 20 years.

The state Department of Transportation has pushed back construction of a second access road to the H-1 Freeway, dubbed the "north-south" road, until late 2004.

The road, which would provide a backdoor route for 'Ewa commuters, was initially scheduled for completion in 2003. State transportation officials said work is expected to take at least two to three years.

The neighborhood board's 5-2 vote with one abstention in favor of a building moratorium was more symbolism than substance, because the board is an advisory group with no legislative powers. But talk of a moratorium has stirred debate in the community and concern among construction workers hired for area residential subdivisions who fear it could cost them their jobs.

It also prompted workers in the housing and construction industry to come out to the 'Ewa board's November meeting to persuade board members to rethink their position.

"When you say words like moratorium and work stoppage, we're going to show up, because these are the faces you're going to lay off," said carpenter Elmer Cabico, who works at Haseko's Ocean Pointe development.

Board chairman Alexander said the neighborhood board's moratorium vote was taken to illustrate its concern over traffic problems and is not intended to put people out of work.

"We're simply an advisory board to the city, but we're trying to send out a message that the people of 'Ewa are very frustrated," Alexander said.

The development boom in 'Ewa started in the late 1980s. With sugar production fading and the residential population of O'ahu heading west, landowner Campbell Estate allowed developers to build on its fallow agricultural fields.

Since 1987, Gentry has built 5,000 homes in its 'Ewa by Gentry development along Fort Weaver Road, with 2,200 more units planned. An additional 1,865 units are planned if Gentry gets rezoning approved for another Campbell Estate parcel.

Haseko, developer of the Ocean Pointe project, has built 500 homes since its 1998 opening and plans 4,850 units over the next 15 to 20 years. The city has also built affordable housing in West Loch and Ewa Villages off Fort Weaver Road since the late 1980s.

University of Hawai'i urban planning professor Karl Kim said the area's traffic problems are bound to worsen until a second main access for 'Ewa is completed.

"All the signs point to the need for more transportation alternatives, as well as better coordination of development and infrastructure to keep up with the population growth," Kim said.

Kim said adding to the traffic equation are younger families moving into affordable planned communities in 'Ewa, which means children will add to the gridlock when they learn to drive in 10 to 15 years.

"Hopefully, the building of the UH-West O'ahu campus will alleviate some of the gridlock by sending students and jobs westward instead of the opposite way into town," he said. The campus, in which the first phase could open as early as fall 2003, could serve between 6,000 and 8,000 students.

While some 'Ewa drivers backtrack five miles through neighborhood streets in Kalaeloa to avoid the gridlock along Fort Weaver Road, residents are awaiting the state's north-south road to provide a real solution to the H-1 access problem.

The project has been delayed for a variety of reasons, including the discovery of a native endangered plant in the project area and a drainage issue that needs to be settled before work can begin. State officials are also considering building it initially as a two-lane road to keep it under its $90 million construction budget.

But also needed to connect with the north-south road is the completion of Kapolei Parkway. The two developers, Haseko and Gentry, as well as the city, need to finish their sections for a continuous route.

Debra Luning, Gentry's director of governmental relations and community affairs, said the company has finished one designated section of Kapolei Parkway and will seek rezoning of another parcel sometime next year to allow them to start work on another half-mile stretch. That section is expected to be finished in 2006.

Haseko Homes vice president Vicki Gaynor said her company has completed about one-third of its portion of Kapolei Parkway and plans to finish the remainder in 2006 when the north-south road is scheduled for completion.

"We're finishing the road while we're building the homes along the route," Gaynor said.

The city also needs to complete its portion of Kapolei Parkway. The $16 million project will start late next year and is scheduled to be completed in 2004.

Adding to drivers' frustrations, Gaynor said, is state roadwork this year along Fort Weaver Road that has created further traffic delays. Projects to widen small portions of Fort Weaver Road and synchronize the dozen traffic lights along the roadway are scheduled for completion by the end of the year.

City Councilman John DeSoto initially drafted language for a council bill that would have imposed a building moratorium in 'Ewa, but decided against it, saying that stopping all development isn't the answer.

"I don't believe a moratorium will facilitate the actual road construction, nor will it improve travel times along Fort Weaver Road," DeSoto said.

DeSoto said he will hold a meeting involving all parties building the alternate route and get back to the 'Ewa board at its Dec. 13 meeting, where the moratorium issue will again be discussed.

Meanwhile, 'Ewa board chairman Alexander is worried about the next potential problem — the Navy's plans to sell or lease holdings in the family housing area in the Iroquois Point/Pu'uloa area, which could possibly mean "more horrendous traffic down the road."

Reach Scott Ishikawa at sishikawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.

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