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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, April 17, 2005

Windward commuters: Beware of five trouble spots

 •  Driver Beware
A special report on O'ahu's traffic problems, including video and interactive graphics

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

Windward commuters: Stay alert. Five of the top 10 accident-prone locations on O'ahu highways are on either Likelike Highway or Pali Highway.

Having missed the green arrow that would have allowed a protected left turn, a car in the middle of the Kapi'olani-Atkinson intersection signals a left turn and tries to proceed, but is cut off by oncoming cars. It's among the most accident-prone intersections for city traffic.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Four of those sites occur near the end of long downhill runs where drivers often exceed the speed limit, according to an Advertiser analysis of major traffic accidents in a one-year period.

The state Department of Transportation, which oversees state highways, says Pali and Likelike were designed to meet federal standards at the time they were built and do not pose inherent danger to drivers.

Rather, it's the drivers themselves who cause most of the problems, officials say.

"Ninety-five percent of all accidents are attributed to driver behavior," DOT spokesman Scott Ishikawa said. "We'd have a lot fewer problems if drivers were more patient and paid more attention."

By far, the most highway accidents occur at the intersection of Likelike and Kahekili in Kane'ohe, a complex cloverleaf that was redesigned in 1997 as part of the H-3 Freeway project.

Worst spots for city traffic

(August 2003 - August 2004)

Alakea/S. Beretania
S. King/Punahou
McCully/S. King
Ala Moana/Atkinson
S. Beretania/Ward
Liliha/N. Vineyard
Ala Moana/Pi'ikoi
S. Beretania/Alakea

Sources: Honolulu Police Department, Advertiser analysis

Ever since, it has ranked at or near the top of highway accident sites on several similar surveys, even though no left turns are permitted in any direction.

"It's got a very high volume of traffic, with people in all directions often rushing to beat a light," Ishikawa said. About 64,000 cars a day pass through the intersection, he said.

Other Windward corridor sites on the list:

• Pali Highway and Kalaniana'ole Highway (Castle Junction).

• Kalaniana'ole Highway at Kapa'a Quarry Road.

• Pali Highway at Nu'uanu Pali Road's upper junction.

• Pali Highway at Waokanaka Street.

Another Likelike site — the Kane'ohe-bound, Kane'ohe side of the Wilson Tunnels — ranks No. 11.

Part of the problem may be that regular commuters on the two highways are too familiar with the roads and may be lowering their guard, Ishikawa said.

"People coming down the road tend to be going too fast and (are) unprepared as they approach an intersection," he said.

As an example, Ishikawa pointed out Castle Junction, where traffic volume amounts to about 55,000 cars a day. "There's a flashing yellow light around the curve to warn people about a red signal ahead," he said, "but how many people pay attention to it?"

Most drivers also ignore the 35-mph speed limit in the Wilson Tunnels, causing problems when they emerge into an often rain-slicked curve, Ishikawa said.

The department hopes an ongoing renovation project in the tunnel that includes drainage, lighting and other improvements will reduce accidents there.

On the other hand, transportation officials are worried that new repaving projects along the Pali and Likelike corridors might cause accidents to increase.

"It's a lot easier to speed when you don't have to worry about potholes," Ishikawa said.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.