State outlines traffic relief changes to help ‘Beat the School Jam’

In just one week, thousands of college students will return to campus and so will the traffic congestion during the morning commute.

Most public school students are already in session, but many private schools and an estimated 53,000 college students, including the University of Hawaii, begin their school year next week.

The state Department of Transportation is hoping several recent changes will help alleviate gridlock.

“We are committed to working within our budget to find solutions that help relieve traffic across the state,” said Ford Fuchigami, Hawaii Department of Transportation Director. “We also encourage drivers to help themselves by planning ahead and using traffic websites and applications in order to map out the best route for their commute. Knowing what current conditions are ahead can save time and help prevent frustration.”

“With the extension of the shoulder lane hours, with the extension of the zipper lane hours, these are all concerns that came into our offices that we relayed over to the Department of Transportation and they took action,” said state Rep. Ty Cullen, D-Royal Kunia, Waipahu, Makakilo.

Here are a list of projects that have been implemented prior to the start of the Beat the School Jam.

Shoulder Lane in Kunia

The new shoulder lane on the H-1 Freeway eastbound from Kualakai Parkway onramp to the Kunia/Waipahu/Ewa (Exit 5) offramp is now available to morning commuters. The shoulder will add another lane of travel on weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. excluding holidays. The shoulder will help get those traveling to Kunia, Waipahu and Ewa off the freeway and on to their destination faster.

“There were clearly some engineering issues but they reached out to federal highways and they made it happen,” said state Rep. Sharon Har, D, Kapolei, Makakilo. “Those residents who work in Schofield now can utilize that shoulder lane and it will now free up the general purpose lanes for those commuters going to town.”

Second Zipper lane added

The Zipper lane now accommodates two lanes of traffic from the H1/H2 merge to the Pearl Harbor area. The improvement expects to add 20 percent more volume within the Zipper lane which will help carpool vehicles move more efficiently, while also reducing the amount of vehicles in the single occupancy lanes. The Zipper lane hours have been extended 30 minutes and is now available from 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays, excluding holidays.

Farrington Highway Contraflow

The pilot initiative aims to add an additional lane in the westbound direction during the busy afternoon commute between 3:30-7 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. The 1.5-mile contraflow operation begins at Piliokahi Avenue and ends in the vicinity of Nanaikeola Street. During the contraflow hours there will be three Waianae bound lanes that are open to all drivers including single occupancy vehicles that will help get vehicles through the bottleneck in Nanakuli. HDOT will continue to monitor the operation and adjust as needed to increase efficiency.

HOV Adjustments

HDOT assessed the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane hours and adjusted the times throughout Oahu to match traffic patterns and boost efficiency. In some cases, HOV hours were extended. In other areas HOV hours were removed and the lane was made available for single occupancy vehicles.

As it has in the past, HDOT will suspend construction-related road closures during daylight hours on major highways from Aug. 22 through Aug. 26 to alleviate traffic congestion during the week.

During the daytime construction break at the start of the school year, emergency closures, nighttime construction, and roadwork that does not involve lane closures, such as shoulder maintenance or landscaping work, may still be scheduled.

Beginning on Monday, Aug. 22, drivers are advised to adjust their commute times accordingly to avoid peak travel periods, and should properly maintain and inspect their vehicles to avoid becoming potential road hazards.

Transportation alternatives include biking to work, taking TheBus, and signing students up for public or private school buses. Carpooling or vanpooling with a neighbor, friend, coworker or classmate can also allow motorists to utilize both High Occupancy Vehicle lanes (two or more individuals per vehicle) on state highways and freeways.

The Freeway Service Patrol will continue helping stranded motorists on the freeway system with free emergency roadside service. FSP trucks are on duty every weekday, except holidays, to provide services to keep traffic moving on the H-1, H-2, and H-201 Moanalua Freeways from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Stranded motorists may call FSP at 841-HELP (4357).

Thanks to federal funding, drivers will now have the chance to save money by vanpooling.

“The program provides a subsidy starting at $250 per van so basically the seven people in the van share that and then they will have additional costs, fuel, etc. that they will all chip in for,” said state Rep. Michelle Kidani, D, Mililani, Waikele, Royal Kunia.

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