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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, August 11, 2007

Traffic flow will be main concern

 •  Honolulu expands emergency center plans

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

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Most of the day-to-day worries for technicians at the proposed 10-story traffic management building at the corner of Alapa'i and King streets will be to remedy incidents that give drivers big headaches but probably won't make the news.

They'll be constantly monitoring 330 traffic cameras, especially during peak hours, dispatching tow trucks to help drivers of stalled vehicles or those in small accidents. From the center, they will be sending messages through the media or electronic signage to commuters about back-ups or closures.

The city says the center, with its new system of getting real-time traffic information and dispersing it to first-responder agencies that will be housed under the same roof, will make for smoother commutes and perhaps even shorter drive times. But don't expect relief too soon. The center won't be operating until 2012.

Pierson Koike, the project manager for the city traffic management center on Ward Avenue, said the new facility will be better able to respond to traffic back-ups big and small. The current traffic management center has little interaction with first responders, other than police officers who drop by in the morning.

He said fire, police and emergency medical services departments will all have representatives in the building, ready to make split-second decisions, based on video feeds, that could avert traffic nightmares, help responders get to a scene quicker or stop a back-up of cars from getting even worse.

For example, Koike said, if an accident causes bumper-to-bumper traffic, it might be easier to get an ambulance to the scene on an off-ramp, rather than making the ambulance maneuver through traffic that's not moving.

It's hard to give that order, Koike said, if dispatchers don't know how bad the traffic is or how close the accident is to an off-ramp. But at the center, agencies will have access to video feeds that could even give them an idea of how bad an accident is.

If it appears to involve a critical or fatal injury, which requires shutting lanes for hours to investigate, police could start diverting traffic immediately before it gets too backed up. The center also could notify drivers to stay off the highway.

"We'll be clearing the traffic faster because of all the agencies involved," he said.

Officials are still trying to determine how long the center will be staffed.

The Ward Avenue facility is open from 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Koike hopes to extend those hours at least until midnight. The new facility also will house staff who monitor traffic through the H-3 tunnel, and it will include city bus personnel.

Mel Kaku, executive director of the city Department of Transportation Services, said the $73 million facility, which also will be an emergency operations center, will monitor traffic over much of the island and deal with problems more quickly.

"It's going to allow us to have state-of-the-art communications and expand our coverage," Kaku said. "We'll have a greater capacity and more cameras."

The city is adding cameras islandwide in anticipation of the new facility.

There are 154 operational traffic cameras islandwide, and Kaku said the city is now focusing its efforts on adding cameras on the Windward side and in Kapolei.

Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.