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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Traffic reporters let commuters know they're not alone

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

The folks who bring you the regular traffic updates on the radio know there is only so much help they can offer.

They're up early every morning looking for trouble. They hunt all afternoon for traffic problems. Every 10 minutes or so they're on the air, giving you the latest news about this slowdown or that backup.

In the end, though, it can't always help you avoid getting stuck. If you're already mired in a jam on H-1 Freeway or Kamehameha Highway, there isn't much to be done. By the time you hear about the problem, many of the alternative roads are jammed, too.

"Maybe the best thing we can do is provide a little solace," said Airborne Traffic's Tony Scott. "We can tell you why you're stuck in traffic, how bad it is and, maybe, how long it's going to last. But often there isn't much you can do about it."

Scott, like other traffic reporters around town, does his reporting these days from the Honolulu Traffic Management Center, housed in a bunker-like building near H-1 Freeway.

Inside, city officials and the reporters keep an eye on more than 135 traffic-monitoring cameras around town, hoping to catch a glimpse of a traffic-slowing incident in time to give drivers a heads-up to avoid an area. They click, scan and zoom the camera images, which appear on nearly a dozen screens, identified by their locations.


Information to help you get around O'ahu:

• TheBus: For schedules and other information, call 848-5555 or visit www.thebus.org.

• Vanpool Hawai'i: 596-8267

• Trafficam: Check out traffic conditions at more than 20 major intersections around Honolulu.

• Road work:

As soon as one camera shows an unusual slowdown, the crew starts searching for the cause. They switch from camera to camera, hunting for trouble. Sometimes it's an accident a mile or so down the road. Sometimes it's an overheated car pulled over to the shoulder, or a piece of debris on the road. Sometimes, it just happens — a traffic slowdown for no apparent reason.

"If we are quick and lucky, sometimes we can get people to another route before everything backs up," said Danielle Tucker, who does the morning and afternoon traffic reports for Cox radio stations in Honolulu. "Sometimes, if we're too late, all we can do is tell people that maybe they should stay at work a little longer, or take a nice, long, leisurely drive around the island the other way."

KSSK's Jason Yotsuda, who pioneered doing the traffic reports from the traffic command center, said the video monitors allow reporters to see the big traffic picture all around the island each rush hour and respond quickly.

Yotsuda knows the traffic engineer's maxim that for every five minutes a lane is blocked, traffic will back up for 45 minutes.

"That's why it's important to get people information quickly and let them change their plans," he said.

Even if you get stuck in traffic, he says, there's something reassuring about knowing you are not alone and not forgotten.

"There's nothing better than being able to tell people what's wrong. That helps relieve the frustration," Yotsuda said.