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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Zipper lane extension to ease flow of townbound traffic

 •  Map: H-1 zipper lane extension

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

A planned $9 million extension of the H-1 Freeway zipper lane will allow thousands of morning commuters to move more quickly between Central O'ahu and downtown Honolulu, state officials said yesterday.

And for the first time, the state is studying the possibility of creating a zipper lane for afternoon commuters, Transportation Director Rod Haraga said.

The three-mile zipper lane extension, expected to be completed by September, will link the existing zipper lane with the popular new Nimitz Highway contraflow lane, creating a continuous 15-mile priority route for car-poolers.

It also will offer, for the first time, a chance for residents of Pearl City and 'Aiea to enter the zipper lane near their homes and get to town more quickly, Gov. Linda Lingle said.

"It's going to save people a lot of time," said 39-year-old John Fielding, who recently moved from Salt Lake to Kalihi to avoid a torturous stretch of freeway driving in the area that the extension will serve.

Who can use it

Who is eligible to use the zipper and contraflow lanes:

• Vehicles with three or more occupants from 5:30 to 7 a.m.

• Vehicles with two or more occupants from 7 to 8:30 a.m.

The state plans to extend the H-1 zipper lane and connect it with the Nimitz contraflow lane, creating one 15-mile route.

Photo By Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

"There's a huge bottleneck where the zipper lane ends now. It used to take me 35 minutes to get from there to Nimitz Highway," Fielding said. "It was ridiculous. I decided to build a home in Kalihi so I could spend more time with my kids."

State lawmakers yesterday praised the new project, saying it will make a significant difference in the day-to-day life of Leeward and Central O'ahu residents, who often spend an hour or more driving each way on their daily commute.

"The contraflow lane helped me and a lot of other people. Now, this is going to allow a lot more people to have shorter commute times," said Rep. Lynn Finnegan, R-32nd (Aliamanu, Airport, Mapunapuna).

The original 10-mile zipper lane built in 1998 begins near the Paiwa Street overpass in Waipahu and ends abruptly just past Radford Drive, creating a backlog on the freeway as up to 4,000 motorists a day merge back into regular traffic before Honolulu International Airport.

By connecting the zipper lane to the 1.7-mile Nimitz contraflow lane, transportation officials hope to move the bottleneck to the brink of downtown Honolulu.

While only car-poolers will be able to use the zipper and contraflow lanes, officials hope it will improve traffic flow for everyone on the freeway.

"The more people we keep in the zipper lane, the more it's going to help everybody else," Transportation Department spokesman Scott Ishikawa said. "The more people who car pool, the fewer cars are on the road and that helps everyone."

The project also will create a new access to the zipper lane for Pearl City and 'Aiea drivers entering near the Radford Drive overpass. It also will allow drivers on the existing lane to exit before the airport if they want.

"I think it will be fantastic," said Pearl City resident Sheila Fukuda, who now fights her way through the H-1 airport bottleneck to hook up with the Nimitz contraflow lane each morning. "Right now we can't get on the zipper lane, so anything else they do would be a help."

Rep. Kymberly Pine, R-43rd ('Ewa Beach, West Loch), said yesterday's announcement was good news for 'Ewa commuters.

"Many people in Leeward O'ahu think the state has forgotten about them when it comes to transportation," Pine said. "The speed at which this project has come about give us a lot of hope for the future."

Haraga also announced that the state is studying the creation of an 'ewa-bound zipper lane for afternoon commuters, but said significant construction and financial obstacles remain before it can become a reality.

"It makes a lot of sense if we can do it, but logistically there are problems. If we can find a way to do it with federal funds, we'll push ahead," he said. "I'd love to run it all the way to Kapolei if we could."

The Federal Highway Administration will pay 90 percent of the cost of the extension project. About $5 million of the price tag will be used to buy the 1,500-pound concrete blocks that are used to form the zipper lane.

Fielding, the commuter who moved to Kalihi to avoid the traffic, said that would be money well spent. "Traffic is only going to get worse if they don't do anything," he said.

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