All lanes of Farrington Highway in Nanakuli have been reopened after a water main break snarled traffic in the area since Thursday night.
Board of Water Supply (BWS) crews completed repairs to a 24-inch water main on Farrington Highway near Pohakunui Avenue in Nanakuli Saturday morning. The main brings 60-percent of the water to residents on the West side of Oahu.
Officials are still asking residents from Honokai Hale to Makaha to conserve water to allow the water system to fully restore. This means using water for essential needs only, such as cooking, drinking, and personal hygiene.
A paving contractor was called after the repairs to the water main were complete. They completed their work at around 5:00 p.m.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic is nothing new to residents on the west side of Oahu, but from Thursday night, the backlog was even more congested.
The main break repairs initially resulted in the closure of all east-bound lanes of Farrington Highway between Pohakunui Avenue and Kahe Power Plant.
The westbound lanes were previously contraflowed to allow one lane of traffic in each direction.
The Honolulu Police Department and the Hawaii Department of Transportation were working around the clock to come up with a plan to keep things moving.
As of Friday afternoon, there were two lanes open for westbound traffic and one lane open for eastbound traffic.
Officials have also adjusted the lights to keep traffic moving as long as possible along the highway.
“I got out here at 1 p.m. They told me it was going to be one (lane) in, one out. I was like no way, we have to have two in when we’re coming in for afternoon traffic,” said Rep. Andria Tupola, R, Ko Olina, Kahe Point, Nanakuli, Lualualei, Maili. “We worked it out where the eastbound was able to stop intermittently and let two lanes flow westbound, but when it hit about 3 o’clock, the Board of Water Supply realized it was going to take a little bit longer, so they gave us one additional lane.”
The damaged section consists of a 20-foot long piece of PVC pipe that was last replaced in the early 2000s.
“It’s a relatively young pipe,” Board of Water Supply Chief Engineer Ernie Lau said. “But what we’ve been noticing with polyvinyl chloride, or PVC pipe, this is plastic pipe, that sometimes because of issues like there are rocks or things that are pressing up against the pipe. It doesn’t break initially, but maybe in a dozen or so or 15 years later the pipe might develop a break there at that location.”
At this point, they are still unsure what caused the 20 foot crack in the PVC pipe, but they said they are looking into it.
There is currently 350 miles of PVC pipe out of 2,100 miles of pipe on Oahu, and the majority of the mains are older materials. Officials are looking for other materials or alternatives and will replace the old PVC as it breaks.
Although BWS said they have had some issues with PVC, there is also an upside to using it.
“It doesn’t corrode,” said Lau. “Our other pipes are cast iron pipes, ductile iron. Others are metal, they’re great and their tough but they also suffer problems with corrosion. So we’ve been putting PVC pipe in certain areas. the old transmission main was a steal pipe encased in concrete and this project was actually to replace that.”
The Board of Water Supply said they would be replacing the cracked PVC pipe with ductile pipe, which can last more than 50 years.
“My experience with duct iron pipe, we have pipe in there, relative to duct iron is cast iron. Some locations depending on where you are last a long time,” said Mike Fuke, Board of Water Supply field operations manager. “For example, if you’re in this area here below Punchbowl, the pipe, when you pull it out and you look at it, it looks brand new.”
So why doesn’t the Board of Water Supply replace all the PVC pipe to prevent accidents like this?
“Last year, the water board adopted a long-term, 30-year master plan to look at all of our assets, and that 30-year master plan includes addressing pipelines,” Lau said. “So we know that we’re going to have to increase the rate of pipeline replacement, number of miles per year. Over the next 10 to 15 years, we’re going to need to start putting in 21 miles of pipelines each year, basically replacing about one percent of our total 2,100 miles each year.”
Officials say additional revenue will be needed to pay for the program.
Long night of gridlock
Officials are calling the break a major traffic situation. Crews have been working on repairs since the break occurred Thursday evening.
One viewer told us it took him an hour to get from Kapolei to Nanakuli Thursday night.
City officials say the emergency road was not opened because it does not bypass the break.
“We wanted to alert folks that if you don’t need to be on the road, please stay off Farrington Highway at that choke point,” said Andrew Pereira, spokesman for the Honolulu Mayor’s office. “We apologize for the inconvenience. Board of Water Supply crews are on site trying to fix this water main break as soon as possible.”