High-tech features aim to keep drivers safe on the H-3 Freeway

H-3 Freeway Traffic Operations Center

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A multi-vehicle crash and fire on the H-3 Freeway at the entrance of the Harano Tunnel shut down Kaneohe-bound lanes Monday afternoon. It took crews a few hours to clear the scene and reopen the lanes.

But it could have been much worse.

There are several high-tech features in the tunnel that make emergencies a little more manageable.

On the H-3 Freeway sits a towering building. But ever wonder what’s inside?

KHON2 was given special access to check out the high-tech traffic operations center that controls this truly “smart highway.”

“This is the way we monitor the traffic in the H-3 tunnels,” H-3 Tunnel Manager Clyde Morita said.

Morita is responsible for 20 tunnel cameras, all monitored by three operators staffed 24/7.

“If there is an incident or accident, our operators can see what’s happening in what area and then focus the cameras there,” Morita said.

That’s just what they did on Monday during a six-car pile up in the Harano Tunnel. They first called 911, then fired up different computerized traffic management tools.

A key tool to the operations in the H-3 tunnels are these giant fans that can pull air in and push air out in an emergency. And they certainly came in handy on Monday.

The crash caused a car to catch fire, spewing out thick black smoke. But tunnel operators acted fast to get rid of the toxic fumes.

Behind a metal barrier is the exhaust corridor and at the push of a button, two high-powered vent fans can be kicked into gear, each with 250 horsepower.

“Where air gets sucked up from the roadway and exhausted through those four fans and up to the roof,” Morita said.

In the event of a fire, that’s key. Operators have 30 carbon monoxide sensors inside the tunnels, making sure levels of the toxic gas don’t become dangerous.

“It did what it was designed to do,” Morita said.

Magnetic loop detectors on the roadway also sense when there’s a stalled vehicle and operators can easily change electronic message boards giving drivers the heads up.

The tunnels also have ways for drivers and passengers to escape if the tunnel is blocked. Every 500 feet is an emergency exit door. Plus, there’s multiple fire hoses and extinguishers.

Related story: H-3 Freeway reopened after multiple-vehicle crash

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