Lane's unveiling helps unclog H-1
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mary Vorsino
Afternoon traffic to Leeward O'ahu moved a little faster yesterday after the long-anticipated opening of a 1 1/2-mile lane extension on the H-1 Freeway westbound near Pearl City, which cost $60 million and took two years to build, the state Department of Transportation said.
"Amazingly, it's actually moving," said DOT spokesman Scott Ishikawa, at about 5 p.m. as he watched traffic at the widened section. "It used to be at a standstill" at that hour.
State monitors will watch traffic along the stretch this week to gauge how much time drivers are saving. The longer lane accommodates an additional 1,400 cars, and is forecast to shave up to 10 minutes from afternoon travel times, Ishikawa said.
An estimated 112,000 cars use the westbound lanes of the H-1 Freeway near Pearl City daily.
Leeward and Central O'ahu residents welcomed the opening of the lane, which was plagued by construction delays.
Initially set to start in December 2003, the extension project was pushed back to June 2004 because of a nationwide shortage of steel.
Six months into the project, crews found underground utility lines at a site where concrete pillars had been planned. The lines had to be moved before construction could continue. Rains in February and March also delayed the project, Ishikawa said.
Mike Golojuch, vice chairman of the Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board, said the widening is long overdue.
"It won't cure the traffic," he said, "but it will definitely make a difference and save some time and aggravation."
The lane had ended at Kaonohi Street, slowing traffic as drivers attempted to merge quickly. It now extends to Ka'ahumanu Street, giving drivers exiting at the Pearl City/Waimalu ramp two lanes in which to get off the freeway.
Ishikawa said he hopes the project will also relieve congestion farther down the freeway, where H-3 and the Moanalua Freeway converge into H-1. "Merging is probably one of the biggest problems when it comes to bottlenecks," he said.
The new lane opened at 11:10 a.m. yesterday after a Native Hawaiian blessing attended by Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, state transportation officials and Leeward and Central O'ahu residents. Pearl City Neighborhood Board member Cruz Vina Jr., who was on hand, said he's pleased to see the widening come to fruition. "It's finally completed," he said. "I'm really glad."
But Maeda Timson, chairwoman of the Makakilo/Kapolei/ Honokai Hale board, questioned the project's worth.
"I sure hope that the millions of dollars we spent is going to save me more than five minutes," she said with a laugh.
The lane extension comes as state transportation officials are planning two other projects to speed up Leeward traffic. The second phase of the Fort Weaver Road widening, from 'A'awa Drive to Geiger Road, is expected to cost about $9 million. It will likely go out to bid by the fall, Ishikawa said. The work will add two new lanes, one in each direction, on the thoroughfare.
In 'Ewa, state crews will start later this year on the second phase on the North-South Road, to cost about $80 million.