Star-Advertiser 9/14/16: Contra-flow Lane Pros & Cons

Reviews of Contra-flow Lane Go Both Ways
By Jayna Omaye jomaye@staradvertiser.com
Star-Advertiser, September 14, 2016

The recent opening of a contra-flow lane on Farrington Highway in Nanakuli is generating a mixed response: Some area residents are pleased that it eases the westbound afternoon commute, while others are frustrated and concerned about eastbound traffic congestion.

The contra-flow lane, which stretches from Piliokahi Avenue to near Nanaikeola Street, was put in place more than a month ago to ease a traffic bottleneck through the 1.5-mile corridor.

The state Department of Transportation is repurposing one eastbound lane on the four-lane highway to allow for three Waianae-bound lanes and one town-bound lane during the afternoon rush hour. The project costs $700,000, most of which was funded by federal dollars, and will operate for one year. 

About 50 community members and officials packed the cafeteria at Ka Waihona o ka Naauao Public Charter School in Nanakuli on Monday night to provide input and pose questions to a DOT official about the contra-flow lane and other transportation projects.

Leimomi Kailianu-Conner, a Nanakuli Homestead resident, said she is grateful that the state is trying to provide traffic relief.

“It’s been a long time coming that somebody did anything,” she said. “We grumbled when they never did nothing. We grumbled when they’re doing something. We got to ask ourselves, how can we help to alleviate these problems?”

But other residents questioned the eastbound left-turn restrictions at Nanaikeola and Helelua streets and Haleakala and Nanakuli avenues, as well as eastbound congestion. Motorists traveling east who need to turn left at those four intersections are directed to a detour at Laumania Avenue.

Leslie Chong, a Nanaikapono Elementary School teacher, said some parents driving east face major congestion trying to get to the school to pick up their children and to after-school games and practices. She maintained that the contra-flow also places an added strain on teachers who work at area schools but do not live on the Waianae Coast.

“I can see that there’s a benefit for the people going westbound. (But) I don’t really see the benefit for the schools,” said Chong, a Nanakuli resident. “I think it’s going to affect the number of students who participate (in after-school activities). And that’s sad because we want them to participate.”

Ed Sniffen, who heads the DOT’s Highways Division, said crews drive through the contra-flow route every hour to track commute times in both directions. Westbound drivers have saved about 10 minutes per day since the contra-flow lane opened, he said. The added lane has also increased the westbound capacity on Farrington Highway to about 2,100 vehicles per hour — up from about 1,450 vehicles per hour.

The contra-flow’s debut went less smoothly for traffic headed in the other direction.

During the lane’s first week of operation, the eastbound drive from Maili Point to Kalaeloa was clocked at one hour, according to DOT staff. That commute is now about 30 minutes, Sniffen said, attributing the faster drive to motorists adjusting to the contra-flow and police officers stationed along the route deterring drivers from making illegal turns. In addition, Sniffen said, the DOT has tried to ease the eastbound congestion by giving drivers added distance to merge into one lane.

“I’m trying to make a balance to ensure that we try to minimize the impacts to one direction while we maximize the benefits to the other. It’s a feasible operation because the system itself has improved,” Sniffen said.

Initially, the plan called for the contra-flow lane to be used from 4 to 7 p.m. But Sniffen said when westbound traffic is flowing smoothly, crews start closing it at 6:30 p.m.

During the community meeting, several residents contended that the DOT should add a secondary access road. In response, Sniffen said such a project would cost about $250 million to $600 million and take at least 10 years just to develop.

He noted that parts of the Waianae Coast Emergency Access Route, a series of connector roadways that bypass Farrington Highway, cannot be opened up because the route is permitted for use only during emergencies — not daily operations.

State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro (D, Kalaeloa- Waianae-Makaha) pointed out that the contra-flow lane is temporary and that she hopes an ongoing project to add a fifth lane on Farrington Highway for left turns from Nanakuli Avenue to Helelua Street, which is slated for completion in August, will help eastbound drivers.

She added that she hopes the afternoon contra-flow could continue with three Waianae-bound lanes and two town-bound lanes after the turn-lane project is completed.

“My general sense is that the majority of residents, I believe support the contra-flow because the majority of people using it are coming home,” she said. “We’re looking for a win-win situation.”

Other Waianae Coast transportation projects were also discussed at the meeting:

  • The DOT is looking into a study to extend the left-turn lane project to Hakimo Road, along with other access alternatives.
  • Traffic cameras on Farrington Highway at Nanakuli and Haleakala avenues will be installed in August. Four cameras will allow officials to monitor traffic flow and make real-time adjustments to the signals.
  • The DOT plans to spend $12 million to repave Farrington Highway from Makaha Beach Park to Nanakuli, as well as redo signs and road-striping to improve vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Read the full article on the Star-Advertiser site.

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