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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Kamehameha traffic improvements funded

 •  Total state budget rises to $9.6 billion

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Central O'ahu Writer

A community task force planning major roadway and landscaping improvements for a five-mile stretch of Kamehameha Highway will start by reducing traffic from two busy feeder streets in Waimalu and Pearl City.

Yesterday, state lawmakers approved $7.7 million in capital improvement funding for the project, after budgeting $750,000 for planning and $1.2 million for startup costs in 2002 and 2005.

Computerized traffic signal timing on Hekaha and Ka'ahumanu streets will be put into effect within the next few weeks and is expected to lead to the eventual synchronizing of traffic lights over the entire corridor from Center Drive to Waihona Street by the end of the year, said Rep. Mark Takai, D-34th (Newtown, Waiau, Pearl City, Waimalu).

Takai is co-chairman of the Kamehameha Highway Improvement Project task force comprising the area's elected officials, community and business leaders, and state Transportation Department spokesman Scott Ishikawa.

Signal-timing or optimization of the entire corridor would not be difficult because the traffic signals are tied to the same computer system, except for a stretch from Center Drive to Aloha Stadium, according to Takai.

"We're going to spend some money to fiber-optically connect all the signals along Kamehameha Highway from Center Drive to Aloha Stadium," he said. "We believe it will provide much-needed relief."

The master plan is also considering implementation of an afternoon rush-hour contraflow from Center Drive to Aloha Stadium, which would send traffic onto Salt Lake Boulevard.

Discussions about improving the highway started in March 2002 at a town meeting attended by more than 100 people, said Takai. A task force was later organized to come up with a master plan.

"We're trying to address this on five different fronts: congestion mitigation, safety-related improvements, aesthetic improvements, specific traffic issues and major maintenance and reconstruction," Takai said.

There's no official time line but Ishikawa said the traffic signal improvements will likely be followed by landscaping and repaving.

The improvement project is using a Federal Highway Administration approach called context sensitive solutions, which involves community input to create a safe roadway with good traffic flow that also addresses aesthetic, historical and environmental concerns.

"One of the things we struggle with as a community," Takai said, "is we need to provide streets to move traffic, but we also should make this corridor ... as aesthetically pleasing as possible."

The state Transportation Department has hired Parsons Brinkerhoff to assist with the planning of improvements to the roadway while Belt Collins is developing a landscape master plan for the corridor, said Takai.

"We're looking at creating a canopy of trees ... so on either side of the road or in the median there will be beautiful trees," Takai said. "In certain areas, we will open up the view plane so passers-by can see into Pearl Harbor. We've decided that, as much as possible, we're going to use large trees because maintenance of large trees is less than (for) low shrubbery."

William Clark, chairman of the 'Aiea Neighborhood Board, said the portion of Kamehameha Highway from Aloha Stadium through Pearlridge Center all the way to Neal Blaisdell Park has been transformed into a "corridor between business establishments" and is a "neglected roadway."

"The creation of businesses along this part of Kamehameha Highway is a necessary part of a growing population but I think the taking away of the natural landscaping of the area without replacing some of the greenery is a sad side effect ... ," Clark said.

Shigeo Ushiro, president of the Pearl City Community Association, said: "It's very unattractive right now so we'd like to see it improved out of pride and appreciation for the community we have."

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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