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Plans for nonskid road top aim to halt Tantalus drifters

By Rosemarie Bernardo

LAST UPDATED: 2:10 a.m. HST, Jun 15, 2010

Transportation officials believe they have found a way to stop the screeching tires and near-crashes associated with recreational "drifting" on the steep, winding roads of Tantalus.

Plans call for the installation of a sandpaperlike nonskid surface in the next year on the sections of road most used for drifting, the Department of Transportation Services said.

This will be the first time the city will install such coating on public roadways on Oahu.

About $175,000 for the work is included in the city's capital improvements budget, though the city spending plan has yet to receive final approval.

For years the S-curves of Tantalus and Round Top drives have drawn drivers who thrill to the sideways, in-and-out-of-control sliding, or drifting, that gives the activity its name.

But the area renowned for its panoramic views of the city is also a residential neighborhood, and Tantalus residents have complained about the noise and danger that drifters pose.

Rick Ralston, a 27-year resident of Round Top Drive, said there can be as many as 20 drivers congregating on the narrow two-lane roadway as early as 1 a.m. on any day of the week.

"They're totally out of control," he said.

A few pose as "lookouts" to warn drivers when police are on their way. Some shoot videos, which are posted on YouTube and show drivers drifting across the center line, often on their way down the mountain.

Over the years, Ralston has heard the loud screeches from at least a mile away from drivers drifting. He also has seen some near head-on collisions.

"People driving up Round Top Drive shouldn't be subjected to head-on collisions by these idiots," he said.

Drifting has subsided in the neighborhood in the past couple of months, likely due to police presence, but the problem still exists.

"I hope (drifters) realize it's dangerous and it's a nuisance," Ralston said.

He said the city's plan sounds like a "good solution."

According to Wayne Yoshioka, director of the city Department of Transportation Services, an epoxy-based material with a texture similar to sandpaper will be installed on top of the asphalt at the S-curves to provide friction.

"It's going to be difficult to drift. It will definitely wear the tires," he said.

While some believe the project is a good idea, others believe it will only serve as a challenge for drifters.

"It's like throwing gasoline on a fire to put it out," said Mike Kitchens, chairman of the Oahu Motorsports Advisory Council. "It doesn't deter them. It gives them another reason for them to attempt it."

While Kitchens understands the concerns of the area residents, he said enthusiasts use public roads because there is no place to safely practice drifting.

"The source of the problem is the fact that there's no motorsports facility for these youth to go out there and practice their need for speed," he said. "There's no legitimate place to do that."

Since Hawaii Raceway Park closed in 2006, Kitchens and other performance motorsports enthusiasts have been working to establish a 30-acre raceway park in Kalaeloa.

"We're trying very hard to get one by the end of this year," Kitchens said.

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