Honolulu ponders fly-over ramp, other fixes for H1's Lunalilo jam
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
Left-hand fly-over ramps, dedicated right turns, and even an underground tunnel are among the options being considered to curb congestion along one of the state's most traffic-clogged corridors — the freeway area around the Lunalilo on-ramp in the heart of urban Honolulu.
Major construction proposals to untangle the H-1 Freeway snarl could cost from $85 million to $172 million, and take up to a decade to begin, according to the director of the state Department of Transportation.
Area legislators say residential side-street traffic has escalated since 2005 when the DOT began coning off the Lunalilo on-ramp as a way to address the freeway congestion problem.
Tomorrow, legislators in the area will host a community briefing in which DOT director Brennon Morioka will map out seven options covered in a feasibility study focusing on the traffic mess.
"We've got too many cars at this one location coming onto the freeway trying to go west, and we've got too many cars at the same time at the same location trying to get off going in the west direction," Morioka said.
"So you get all this weaving and people merging left and right, and that's the reason why people slow down. And that's how you create that bottleneck. ... Because people slow down when they're merging."
The DOT began coning off the Lunalilo on-ramp five years ago as a way to keep morning traffic flowing on the freeway.
But Sen. Carol Fukunaga, D-11th (Makiki, Pāwa'a), said she and other area legislators have been besieged with complaints from residents in the surrounding area as well as motorists who use the on-ramp.
"The Punahou-area users complained that there was a lot more traffic on surface streets in the morning," Fukunaga said. "And people who could no longer access the Lunalilo on-ramp started going up to Prospect and then curve around School Street to get onto the freeway."
A traffic study done before the Hawai'i Convention Center was built in Waikīkī advised the state and city to work together to fix the cross-over problem at the Lunalilo on-ramp. In 2006, citing that study, Fukunaga and other area legislators asked the DOT to consider a capital improvements project that would permanently solve the problem.
That led to the feasibility study, which was finished recently after 2 1/4 years. Fukunaga said now it's time to seriously think about a permanent solution, "because if you're just going to do this temporary solution and block people from getting on, you are in fact adding to the congestion on the surface streets in the surrounding area."
Fukunaga favors the $110 million left-hand fly-over ramp to Vineyard Boulevard because she believes it is the simplest, most practical of the four major construction options.
The most expensive alternative is a left-hand tunnel exit to Vineyard that would improve interstate and surface travel, ease congestion at the on-ramp, and shave 1.7 minutes of travel time for motorists traveling from University Avenue to Pali, according to the study.
One option that Morioka doesn't favor is to change nothing and simply continue coning off the Lunalilo on-ramp daily. That's not only ineffective, but costly in the long run, he said.
"We're trying to look for something that would help 24 hours a day as well as reduce our operation costs, because it costs us money to do the coning every morning. We have to pay crews to put out those cones and then to remove them."
He said the community meeting is meant to be informational — a way to let residents know what the study's findings are.
"There's no decisions on what option we're going to choose," he said.
Morioka said the state would need to do an environmental impact study on each of the options before any work could begin. He said funding for the project would come from either state or federal highway funds. Actually implementing whatever option might be chosen could take up to a decade.
Fukunaga disagrees with that conclusion.
"It's not as drawn out as Brennon makes it out to be," Fukunaga said. "His administration is going to be long gone by the time it's finished. But I think ... the residents in the area would appreciate a permanent solution to this problem."
She said the project would also qualify for federal funding that would pay for 90 percent of the costs.