ZipMobile repairs completed, ZipperLane operations return to normal

The ZipperLane is open after repairs to the ZipMobiles are done.

Officials say crews tested both vehicles overnight and the state has opened the ZipperLane in the eastbound direction at about 4 a.m. Thursday. It will be open for the morning rush-hour commute through 8:30 a.m

Vehicles using the ZipperLane will require two or more passengers.

On Wednesday, crews managed to fully close the ZipperLane at about 4 p.m., which opened up all westbound lanes.

The “zipping” process began at 2 p.m., approximately 30 minutes ahead of schedule, after the backup ZipMobile was repaired and moved into West Oahu. As it proceeded, it opened two westbound lanes for use.

Motorists were advised to expect delays as westbound afternoon traffic remained affected, although traffic seemed to ease somewhat after 6 p.m.

Alternate routes were congested. By 2:30 p.m., bumper-to-bumper traffic was reported on Moanalua Road heading toward the H-1.

Afternoon and evening traffic accommodations

The state Dept. of Transportation announced more traffic adjustments to help alleviate afternoon traffic.

All vehicles were allowed to use the H-1 westbound HOV lane regardless of the number of passengers.

The H-1 Freeway westbound right shoulder lane was open for use between the Radford Drive overpass and the Kaneohe/Honolulu off-ramp, and the Kaonohi Street overpass to the Waimalu/Pearl City off-ramp.

The Freeway Service Patrol also extended operating hours to 9 p.m.

Due to the traffic, the OIA baseball game scheduled between Moanalua and Castle high schools at Hans L’Orange Park in Waipahu was canceled. The game was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. and broadcast live on OC16.

Meanwhile, the city Department of Transportation Services announced the following scheduled road work and lane closures were cancelled for the afternoon and evening:

  • Kapiolani Boulevard in McCully (Board of Water Supply)
  • Kapahulu Avenue
  • Kamehameha Highway fronting Blaisdell Park
  • Kamehameha Highway westbound and, starting at 3 p.m., eastbound work to cease as well (HART)

The cancellation notice did not include the state’s scheduled eastbound lane closures on the H-1, between the Kaamilo Street Overpass and the Aiea/Kaneohe/Honolulu Off-Ramp (Exit 13A), to replace deteriorated pavement.

Previous coverage: Open ZipperLane causes traffic nightmare for westbound drivers

Added police presence, constant monitoring

Honolulu Police Department assistant chief Clayton Kau said officers were out to help monitor traffic flow Wednesday afternoon.

Officers were assigned to specific intersections or locations, like Nimitz Highway, Moanalua Road and Kamehameha Highway.

Eleven solo bike officers and 10 special duty officers ensured those areas were not being blocked and traffic was flowing.

“We’d like to ask motorists for their patience. If they do get into a motor vehicle accident or experience any type of mechanical failure or difficulty with their cars, we’d like them to pull off to the side of the road and allow the traffic to continue to move smoothly,” Kau said.

To help the traffic flow, officials with the city’s Traffic Management Center constantly monitored the traffic lights, adjusting them as needed.

“We have the cameras so we can see what’s happening. If we do too much, then we can always pull it back, so this is why you cannot just punch and leave. You always have to change it, monitor it, adjust. It’s constantly changing,” said Ty Fukumitsu with the city’s Traffic Management Center.

HPD apologizes for distracted driving citations

Kau also acknowledged that officers were out Tuesday afternoon enforcing the city’s distracted driving law.

“At the time they were doing that, they weren’t aware of the traffic problem. When they were notified (between 5 and 6 p.m.), they ceased enforcement action,” Kau said. “(As far as) any enforcement action being taken today, the officers will be asked to use their discretion… We can’t just ignore any type of violation.”

“I can apologize for that enforcement thing. That operation was already scheduled, the one that (the traffic divison) had was at Waimano Home Road,” said Capt. Darren Izumo.

HPD said officers cited 65 drivers in the Pearl City area for illegal use of cell phones from 2 to 6 p.m. Izumo said officers didn’t realize anything unusual was going on, because traffic was normally bad at that time in that area.

“I’ll take the hit for that,” Izumo said. “We were concentrating on getting the westbound traffic flowing so I failed to cancel that operation.”

HPD pointed out that it has to enforce the law, but added the public has the right to challenge the citation in court.

Transportation officials take blame for not following ZipMobile protocol

The state admitted it took a calculated risk Tuesday when it decided to remove a part from the working ZipMobile to use in the broken ZipMobile.

KHON2 was at the ZipHale Wednesday when the technician arrived from California to fix the ZipMobile. He put in a new power pack and CPU unit.

When the job was done, he popped out to say, “We got it ready to go. Going to take it out. Thank you.”

The technician only took about 10 minutes to fix the ZipMobile at the ZipHale. But by then, traffic was already a mess.

“He’s from the vendor and they specifically take care of the higher-level portions. In the protocols set up with contracts and contracts with other states, it’s the same,” said Edwin Sniffen, DOT Highways Division deputy director.

zipmobile repair (1)
Repairs at the ZipHale

The state has other experts on island to take care of routine maintenance, but no one to take care of something like this.

“Are you looking into the possibility of getting someone on that level on island?” KHON2 asked.

“At this time, no. Bottom line, if we followed our protocol, if we kept the operational vehicles, operational, we wouldn’t have this conversation at this time,” he said.

Looking back, why didn’t the state use the other ZipMobile that was working at the time, which is also protocol, instead of removing parts from it? The DOT said it was trying to save some time.

“We thought we could save an hour and a half because this thing takes a long time to drive over,” Sniffen said. “Moving forward, we’re going to make sure we follow protocols in the way we do it.”

“So in hindsight, was it a good idea to take out that piece from that ZipMobile?” KHON2 asked.

“No, no. We’re going to make sure in our protocols, we always have an operational vehicle,” he said.

Sniffen told KHON2 the vendor made the recommendation to pull the unit from one ZipMobile to place in the other, but ultimately, “it’s still my call,” he said. “Everything that comes from the division comes from me, so I made the call.”

Lesson learned, communication is key

It was KHON2 who first alerted state Director of Transportation Ford Fuchigami to the problem with the ZipMobile.

In addition to triggering a traffic mess, the breakdown prompted questions over how to get the word out when drivers are about to confront a massive problem on the roads.

“I do understand that communication is this situation has been an issue and we’re working to make sure that we engage your support to keep the public informed,” said Gov. David Ige.

“The number one is communications,” Fuchigami said. “We have a communication plan and basically it’s getting information to the media.”

Here is how word of the crisis unfolded:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the ZipMobile stalled.
  • Less than an hour later, at 10:25 a.m., the first word came from the state. In a news release, officials said there was no estimated time for reopening.
  • Just before noon, KHON2 sent out an alert as traffic began to build.
  • At 12:35 p.m., the state sent out another advisory telling the media crews were currently working on potential solutions.
  • At 2:45 p.m., the state directly informed the media about the problem with a press conference (that KHON2 live streamed to the public).
  • At 3 p.m., drivers waited for the ZipperLane to open in the Ewa-bound direction as promised.
  • One hour later, at 4 p.m., drivers are finally allowed to enter the ZipperLane heading west.

As for why it took so long for the state to notify the public, Sniffen said the department thought it could fix the disabled ZipMobile until 1 p.m. and had to quickly prepare for Tuesday night’s traffic.

Officials did not anticipate the traffic build up on Nimitz Highway, he added.

Because of the massive congestion brought upon by the breakdown of the ZipMobile, the city is now working to improve its Nixle emergency alert system by having the alerts sent directly from the Traffic Management Center to motorists out in the field.

The state and the city are also working to build a stronger social media presence, including taking another look at its joint traffic website GoAkamai.org.

“People are able to be informed. They don’t have to go out then get stuck in traffic and say ‘Why am I here?'” said Mike Formby, director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services. “They will know ahead of time if they use these resources.”

KHON2 asked drivers how they get word of a traffic emergency.

“Usually from a phone, through social media. I saw a lot of people posting a lot about the traffic,” said Brittney Akai.

“I usually get my information through social media, usually from Facebook and Twitter,” said Madison Maeshiro. “People were talking all about how they’re stuck in traffic.”

Fuchigami also came away from the experience a stronger believer in social media.

“Social media was brought up. I think that’s an excellent idea,” he said. “We’ll be sitting down with our (public information officers) and say listen, we want to be able to do this and get the word out to the entire public.”

aerial view of aiea
H-1 Freeway, Aiea

The cost of getting a new ZipMobile

Fuchigami said in August of 2014, the manufacturer sent information on options for replacement or maintenance of the ZipMobiles.

The director said he was leaning toward budgeting $11 million to replace both vehicles.

He said the total cost for each ZipMobile was about $5.3 million, which is comprised of $3.8 million for the vehicle and $1.5 million for parts and maintenance.

However, Fuchigami said he can’t give a timeline for replacement as the decision hasn’t been made. They are still in the proposal phase.

State officials say 20 years is the lifespan of the vehicles. While it was earlier reported the vehicles were 17 years old, Fuchigami says the proposal he received states the vehicles were 15 years old in 2014.

Fuchigami also said ZipU technicians told him that the part that failed, the CPU card, is a rare occurrence and that holding spares on hand didn’t make sense as they only have a two-year shelf life.

More questions answered

When Fuchigami was pressed on why Sniffen was handling the press conferences, he explained that his deputies run the day-to-day duties so the message is carried by them as they are the ones in the field. It was also brought up that HIDOT spokeperson Tim Sakahara is on vacation. However, protocols are in place for covering his work while he’s out.

As for coordination with the Honolulu Police Department, Sniffen explained that the city Department of Transportation Services has control over the intersections and traffic flow in the area so officers on scene may have conflicted with those efforts.

In the next three months, Sniffen said HIDOT will look into their options that include replacing the 17-year-old ZipMobiles, a signification rehabilitation of one of the vehicles with a minor rehabilitation of the second, or having parts on hand for repairs.

The previous administration chose to hold parts as a lower cost option, he said.

View current traffic conditions via our interactive traffic map:

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