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H-1 Freeway Piikoi St. on-ramp reopened after maintenance, traffic study

The Piikoi Street on-ramp onto the H-1 freeway was reopened April 30, 2017. The state will assess if closing that on-ramp permanently would improve traffic on the H-1 in the area, but the DOT says will take some time before that decision would happen.

A heavily used on-ramp is was closed for about two week, but could it be shut down for good?

From April 17-29, the Piikoi Street on-ramp to the H-1 Freeway eastbound was closed 24-hours a day.

Drivers were still able to get on the freeway via the Ward Avenue and University Avenue on-ramps.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation said the closure was necessary, not only to conduct maintenance work to the on-ramp -- such landscaping, upgrading striping, replacing reflectors, upgrading guardrail, and fixing potholes -- but also to study the traffic impacts of the ramp's closure. HDOT says the main reason for the closure is to see if it reduces congestion on the freeway.

"The Punahou Street off-ramp and Piikoi Street on-ramp has been an area of concern in terms of congestion. With the scheduled maintenance work, it is an ideal opportunity to see how traffic is impacted from the on-ramp closure," Sniffen said. "HDOT is constantly looking for new ways to improve the highways system and this could be a way to make the freeway more efficient."

Why two weeks?

"When we have construction closures, in the first week people are trying to find their way, during the second week people really made adjustments to their schedules and where they are going to go so it's going to be consistent," Ed Sniffen, Hawaii Department of Transportation, Highways Division Deputy Director explains.

Why now?

"We wanted to make the closure during this period to make sure that we caught realistic times. We didn't want to do it in the summer when UH was out of session, or when the kids were not going to school. We wanted to make sure we caught a realistic time that we could get realistic data through this [study]," Sniffen explained.

Anyone who's driven along that stretch during rush hour, and even on Saturdays, is familiar with that congestion. Prior to the Punahou off-ramp, traffic can back up, sometimes to Middle Street. Once you drive past, it usually flows just fine.

That's because vehicles entering the freeway from the Piikoi Street on-ramp must merge left across two lanes in order to continue on the freeway while vehicles exiting the freeway at the Punahou Street off-ramp are simultaneously merging right. The state says it wants to cut down on what it calls "significant weaving" in this situation.

Sniffen said that the average speed for the far right lane is about 30 miles per hour, the second lane is about 45 miles per hour, and the two left lanes are about 50 to 55 miles per hour. HDOT is seeing if the closure will increase the efficiency in the traffic flow.

After study is complete, HDOT will take a couple of months to look at where drivers went due to the closure. There are 16 counting station on the highway and parallel streets to measure the impact on the streets around the area.

Officials say the study may find that the closure reduces enough freeway congestion to justify a permanent closure and improvements on alternate routes such as changes in signal timings or widening lanes.

With more than 100,000 people heading eastbound on the freeway each day, some drivers we spoke to were uneasy about the change.

"It's just bad news when they close it during traffic time, because it just backs everybody up and there's no alternate route," said driver Michael Tsue.

Tsue says even the alternate routes are "backed up already in the morning."

Another concern drivers shared was the effect that the two-week closure would have on traffic on streets leading up to the freeway.

In the next two weeks, a traffic counter will be put out to see just how many cars use the eastbound Piikoi on-ramp each day.

The maintenance work in the area will cost under $100,000.

HDOT welcomes feedback from the community on the project. Those wishing to comment may email the Public Affairs Office at dotpao@hawaii.gov or call 808-587-2160.

HDOT said that the next hotspot they will be looking at is around the Punahou onramp. Officials want research changing the configuration of Punahou Street going to Manoa for the afternoon commute. Sniffen brought up a possible contra-flow lane or even adding a lane going Manoa bound to keep drivers from getting backed up on the freeway.

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