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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 20, 2003

State to try contraflow lane on Nimitz

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

The state plans to begin a contraflow project on Nimitz Highway this summer, helping thousands of townbound commuters every morning, state Transportation Director Rod Haraga said yesterday.

The project would add an extra lane of traffic along the highway from the H-1 Freeway viaduct to Iwilei, Haraga said.

The work is billed as a demonstration project but could be made permanent if it proves successful, he said.

"It sounds good. I'll definitely give it a try," said Carla Kishinami, who leaves her Waialua home with her family about 6:10 each morning on her way to work in Honolulu. She hits the big backup near where H-1 and Moanalua Freeway merge about an hour later. "Anything would help."

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A public information meeting on the contraflow project will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 at Pu'uhale Elementary School Cafeteria, 345 Pu'uhale Road.

For details, call 587-1830.

Providing a contraflow lane on Nimitz Highway has been discussed by state transportation planners for more than a decade, but some area businesses and residents worried about traffic and safety problems have opposed the project in the past.

Bernadette Young, chairwoman of the Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board, said the group is eager to hear details of the project but hasn't taken a stand for or against it. In general, community members worry about the lack of left turns, increased neighborhood traffic and how the contraflow lanes will limit access to some businesses, she said.

Haraga said the Transportation Department has been working with community members to address their concerns. Extra police officers will be hired to help students cross the road near Pu'uhale Elementary School and 'ewabound drivers used to making a left-turn into Kalihi Kai businesses will have to circle on cross streets first, he said.

"We definitely want to get the kids used to looking out for the extra lane of traffic," he said.

The project would convert one 'ewabound lane into a townbound lane between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m. from the Ke'ehi Interchange to just before the Hilo Hattie store where the highway becomes divided with four lanes in each direction.

If successful, the contraflow lane eventually could be tied to a planned extension of the H-1 Freeway zipper lane, which ends at the Pearl Harbor interchange. Plans call for it to be extended in the next few years to the Ke'ehi interchange.

The goal of the contraflow lane is to speed traffic on Nimitz Highway and alleviate some of the congestion that occurs each morning at the Middle Street merge, where Moanalua and H-1 Freeways come together, Haraga said.

"Anything that relieves some of the congestion coming to town helps," said Rodney Kim, executive director of the Sand Island Business Association. "For us it will be welcome if it speeds the trip to town and helps cut down the backup trying to get into Sand Island."

The project has an estimated $5 million price tag, most of which will be spent to build a ramp that will allow townbound vehicles to cross into the contraflow as they get off H-1.

Construction of the ramp, widening the left turn into Sand Island and installing new traffic signals for the contraflow lanes need to be finished before the project can begin. The Transportation Department hopes to have work done in time for the increase in back-to-school traffic starting in late August, Haraga said.

The state also is nearing completion on construction of a third turn lane for vehicles leaving Sand Island for Nimitz Highway and the freeway. Traffic can be so bad leaving Sand Island that drivers often have to wait three or four traffic light cycles before making the turn, Kim said.

"The extra lane is really going to help cut down on that," he said.