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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Slow traffic ahead

Were you caught in the H-1 traffic? Tell us how long it took you to get home and what route you took
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Traffic photo gallery
 •  Traffic expert: State lacks 'catastrophe' plan

By Curtis Lum and Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writers

Commuters stuck on the freeway near Pearl Harbor could have called it the H-1 Parking Lot.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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7 tonight

Asing Park, 91-1450 Renton Road, 'Ewa Beach

Speakers: Professor Pans Prevedouros and Rep. Rida Cabanilla

Information: 586-6080

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  • Honolulu Police provide minute-by-minute updates on accidents, stalled vehicles and other traffic problem.

  • The city has more than 90 cameras monitoring traffic across O'ahu. You can watch in real time at www.co.honolulu.hi.us.

  • Traffic camera images of the H-3 Freeway are available through the state Transportation Department at www.eng.hawaii.edu.

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    A contractor checks the damage to the overpass.

    REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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    A construction crew worked through the night to repair the H-1 pedestrian overpass near Olopana Street in 'Aiea. The bridge was damaged when it was struck by an excavator being transported from Pearl Harbor to Schofield Barracks. State transportation officials hoped to have most lanes re-opened by this morning.

    REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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    Soldiers worked on the excavator after yesterday's accident. The military rig was on its way to Schofield Barracks, from Pearl Harbor, and was transporting equipment that had been on Kwajalein.

    GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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    The Army truck carrying the excavator yesterday did not have a DOT permit to transport oversized equipment, according to DOT chief Rod Haraga. And, in a bizarre twist to a long day for commuters, after the Army truck and excavator left the freeway, police found a dead body in the blue van, upper left of picture. Foul play was not suspected.

    GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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    Thousands of motorists were trapped in yesterday's gridlock.

    REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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    Transportation officials said they hoped to have all H-1 lanes, except for the Zipper Lane, opened in time for this morning's rush-hour.

    But the loss of the Zipper Lane means townbound traffic will likely be more congested than normal.

    "Leave early and be patient," said state Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa. "When people get impatient, that's when we get more accidents."

    All six 'ewa-bound lanes were closed yesterday afternoon after a military vehicle hit a pedestrian overpass in 'Aiea. Late last night 'ewa-bound traffic remained backed up to Kalihi as a contractor tore down the now-unsafe overpass.

    An Army truck carrying an excavator rammed the overpass at about 2 p.m.

    State transportation officials said the Army did not have a permit to transport a large excavator.

    The Army was taking the hydraulic excavator from Pearl Harbor to Schofield Barracks when it struck the overpass. Large chunks of concrete crashed to the roadway, but there were no reports of damage to cars or injuries.

    Rod Haraga, Department of Transportation director, said his office found out about the incident from a radio station and he questioned whether the truck's driver reported the incident to police. About an hour went by before Haraga made it to the scene and determined that the bridge was dangerous to pedestrians as well as drivers below.

    Haraga said the crash was so severe that it exposed cables in the overpass that were "very critical to the structural integrity of the walkway."

    "Our assessment was to demolish the bridge," he said.

    But to do so the state had to close the west-bound lanes of the freeway and one east-bound lane last night. For about an hour late last night, all east-bound lanes also were closed.

    The state hired Hawaiian Dredging to tear down the mauka side of the overpass and crews were expected to work through the night so the freeway could be open this morning. Engineers will have to determine whether the bridge will be repaired or demolished completely, Haraga said.


    The state as well as Army are investigating the incident. But Haraga said last night that anytime a large piece of equipment is transported that his office must issue a permit.

    Haraga said the overpass has a clearance of 16 feet, 9 1/2 inches and the excavator struck about a foot higher than that. As part of the permit process, drivers are told about the different overpass heights because not all are the same, he said.

    "Local people that transport equipment here normally get a permit from us when they carry over-weight equipment so we can warn them on what equipment to use because of the bridge heights," Haraga said.

    Haraga said there was no permit on file in his office and the driver didn't have one in the truck as required.

    Lt. Col. John Williams, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Pacific, last night said the Army is looking into the incident. He said it was not known last night if the large truck belonged to the Army or if it were contracted for the job.

    Williams also said the Army is investigating whether it had a permit to transport the excavator. The earth-mover was from the 84th Engineer Battalion, 8th Support Command, he said, and was headed back to Schofield after being used in Kwajalein.

    Military officials were able to lower the excavator and remove it from the scene at about 7 p.m. But the traffic nightmare continued as crews worked feverously to demolish the overpass.

    Traffic on Moanalua Freeway at 10 p.m. was still backed up to Moanalua Gardens and motorists hoping to avoid the freeway gridlock were caught along clogged side streets. Haraga said more than 200,000 cars pass through that portion of H-1 each day.

    Steve Nakamoto said he left his job at the Honolulu Board of Water Supply at 3:15 so he could get to 'Aiea High School where he coaches baseball. By the time he reached the field three hours later, practice was already over.

    "I make it a point that I cannot miss practice," Nakamoto said. "But you couldn't do anything."

    He was able to remind his departing players that practice will be held as scheduled tomorrow.

    "I cannot recall the last time that I missed a practice and I've been coaching for 34 years."


    Teo Aquino said it took him more than two hours to get from the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific to his in-laws' house in 'Aiea. He said he wanted to stop by to pick up some Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

    "All these guys on the radio were saying, 'You might as well go around the island,' and I thought that was ridiculous," said Aquino, a Kunia resident. But after being stuck in traffic for more than two hours, Aquino said, "I wish I went around the island."

    The already stressful day took a bizarre twist after the truck and excavator left the scene. Police officers noticed a van parked just a few feet from where the excavator sat on the H-1 shoulder. They had thought it was driving with the Army vehicle.

    But when officers looked into the van, they found the body of a man in the driver's seat. The man, in his mid-40s, was pronounced dead at the scene.

    Maj. Debora Tandal, commander of the Pearl City police station, said foul play was not suspected, but an autopsy will determine the cause of death.

    Tandal said the van was seen parked along the freeway before the freeway was closed, but it was not known last night whether the van was there before the excavator hit the bridge.

    "They felt that he was part of the military caravan that was on the side of the road," Tandal said. "When the caravan left, he didn't and they went to check on him."

    Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com and Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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