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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Off-ramp plan aids access to Queen's

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Downtown residents are praising plans for a $2.7 million project to stretch the H-1 Freeway's Kina'u Street off-ramp to Lusitana Street, saying the extension will save commuters time and give The Queen's Medical Center employees and patients another route to the hospital.

About $1.7 million in federal funds have been appropriated for the project, and the state and the medical center have pledged to share the remaining costs. Design plans are expected to be completed this month and work on the project could start by next year. Construction will take about eight months.

"Anything that will help alleviate traffic congestion is really good," said Lynne Matusow, vice chairwoman of the Downtown Neighborhood Board.

With the extended off-ramp, drivers would be able to exit at Kina'u Street and veer onto a loop ramp to get onto Lusitana Street, which leads to the back of The Queen's Medical Center. "It will allow people to get to the Physician's Office Building and Lusitana Street. Some of those people will just get off the freeway, and that's a good thing," said Tom Smyth, chairman of the Downtown Neighborhood Board.

Scott Ishikawa, state Department of Transportation spokesman, said the off-ramp extension will free up traffic on Vineyard Boulevard and Punchbowl Street. Also, it will assist drivers using the H-1 Freeway's Punchbowl off-ramp who are not able to turn into the hospital at Miller Street.

"People could use the Kina'u exit instead," Ishikawa said. "The whole Vineyard and Punchbowl area is pretty congested."

The hospital pledged it would help pay for traffic improvements in exchange for a city go-ahead to build a new parking garage and emergency-room entrance.

Mark Yamakawa, executive vice president of corporate development at Queen's, said the extension also will prove helpful when the hospital's services and the volume of patients expand over the coming decade. "I think it's reasonable to assume there will be continued increases in the demand for services, not just for Queen's but for the downtown area as well," he said. "These solutions will help to alleviate some of the problems."

The extension likely will not affect ambulance traffic, Yamakawa said. Ambulances are allowed to turn onto Miller Street from Punchbowl.

The hospital's other planned traffic improvement, which would connect Lusitana Street to the H-1 Freeway's Vineyard onramp, is still being tweaked. Residents had expressed concerns about the feasibility of the project, saying it would be dangerous for drivers to progress slowly up a hilly onramp and then attempt to merge quickly into freeway traffic.

Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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