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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 24, 2002

Nimitz contra-flow revived

 •  Map: Proposed zipper lane extension and new contra-flow lane

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The state is reviving the idea of creating a contra-flow lane on Nimitz Highway to move Central O'ahu commuters into the downtown area, but Kalihi residents who oppose it say it is still a bad idea and that other alternatives to ease traffic should be found.

The state hopes to ease morning rush-hour traffic on Nimitz Highway by extending the zipper lane, which now ends at the H-1 viaduct, to the Ke'ehi Interchange on Nimitz, and add a contra-flow lane from Ke'ehi Lagoon to downtown.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

The state Department of Transportation plans to extend the H-1 Freeway morning zipper lane from Pearl Harbor to the Ke'ehi Interchange and connect it directly to a new contra-flow lane from Ke'ehi Lagoon to downtown Honolulu.

The zipper lane and the contra-flow lanes would be for the exclusive use of vehicles with three or more people.

"It's an experiment to see if we can't move traffic faster off ... the freeway into town in the morning," DOT spokeswoman Marilyn Kali said. "It is still in the planning process. It will have to go to design and then to construction. It is probably several years away."

The zipper lane now ends just before the airport and would be extended about a mile to the Ke'ehi interchange, where H-1 turns into Nimitz Highway.

The contra-flow lane on Nimitz Highway would create a fourth lane of town-bound traffic, but no left turns would be allowed between Pu'uhale Road and Pacific Street, where the Hilo Hattie corporate offices are.

Kali said initial surveys show that about 85 percent of the businesses along the highway either don't have a problem with contra-flow or say they won't be affected by it.

But Kalihi residents say they have heard it all before and voted down the state's plan on several occasions.

In 1997, after years of debate, the state pulled back its $200 million proposal to build an elevated viaduct along Nimitz Highway into downtown Honolulu. The state transportation director at the time, Kazu Hayashida, said the project was put on hold because of opposition from the Kalihi community, including businesses complaining that they would suffer.

Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board member John Dell said contra-flow would have hurt businesses then and would now because left turns would be prohibited between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m., the prime weekday working hours for trucking.

"The board voted against the plan a couple years ago," Dell said. "The viaduct was shot down, then contra-flow was shot down. Now it is back to contra-flow. Next thing, they will want a viaduct again."

Board chairwoman Bern-adette Young said local traffic would be forced to use only the narrow Kalihi streets.

"We are an old neighborhood and many of the side streets were made for the horse-and-buggy days," Young said. "Forcing traffic onto those streets will make traffic worse. ... (The state) said contra-flow is only going to save drivers coming to town five minutes. It doesn't seem worth it to me."

Cheryl Soon, city transportation services director, said the city has contra-flow lanes on four streets leading into Honolulu — on Wai-'alae and Ward avenues, Kapi'olani Boulevard and Kalaniana'ole Highway.

The cones are set and taken down by two city road crews. Kalaniana'ole, like Nimitz, is a state highway and the city does the job for them.

Soon said Kalaniana'ole is relatively easy for traffic to adjust to because each valley along the East O'ahu route drains onto the highway. Nimitz, with its many intersections and left-turn lanes, would be more difficult.

"It could be successfully done, but you do have to work closely with the neighbors, and I know the neighbors have expressed some concerns," Soon said.

Kali said public meetings will be held to discuss the project with residents in Kalihi, Pearl City and in the Leeward area.

"This is an experiment. It will have some starting time and then we will do a study afterward to see if it was effective and to determine the benefits and the complaints," Kali said. "It's one of those projects where after the study is done, if it is not effective, we could just eliminate it and go back to what we had before."

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.

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