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Drivers unable to dodge jams

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 1:33 a.m. HST, Nov 9, 2011

Traffic was still congested around the Hawai'i Convention Center Tuesday evening, but nothing compared with the bottlenecks and backups during morning rush hour on the first day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Drivers continued dodging through congestion around streets near the convention center later Tuesday.

"It's a bit overwhelming," said Jennifer Duarte of Kaneohe, who said she got stuck in gridlock on Keeaumoku Street Tuesday night after leaving Ala Moana Center. "I haven't seen anything like it in a long time."

Even so, Wayne Yoshioka, director of the city's Department of Transportation Services, said the congestion was worse in the morning because people had to keep their schedules or get to school by a certain time.

"The morning appeared to be more intense as people tried to find their way for the first time," he said.

For today and the rest of the week, Yoshioka encouraged town-bound drivers from East Honolulu to stay on the H-1 freeway for the morning commute instead of trying to get around congestion by getting off at the Kapiolani offramp.

"That bottleneck (at Kapiolani and Kalakaua) was worse than any congestion they could have experienced elsewhere," he said. "If you stick with it, you'll get a better experience than if you try to circumvent it by going to Kapiolani."

Accountant Kim Ikeda said she normally leaves her Waialae Iki home at about 7 in the morning and gets to her Alakea Street office in 20 minutes.

However, Ikeda said she might have to start at least 30 minutes earlier today after getting stuck.

"It was bad," said Ikeda, who estimated that her commute time nearly doubled Tuesday. "They kept saying, 'Come in earlier,'" said Ikeda referring to the advice from city and state officials, "but that didn't help yesterday."

City transportation officials called on commuters -- especially those who have to make the drive from Hawaii Kai to town -- to be patient, consider alternate transportation such as city buses, or shift work hours.

If possible, commuters should avoid Kapiolani Boulevard altogether this week. It is better to endure increased congestion on the H-1 or Beretania Street than to get stuck in much worse congestion along Kapiolani, city officials said.

The state Department of Transportation unexpectedly closed one of three lanes of Waikiki-bound traffic on Ala Moana Boulevard Tuesday and will do it again tonight for 12 hours to move security barricades at the request of the Secret Service.

The far-right lane of Ala Moana Boulevard will be closed from 6 p.m. today to 6 a.m. Thursday from Ward Avenue to Kalakaua Avenue, DOT spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said.

Only city buses and emergency vehicles will be allowed through the closed lane.

DOT officials were told to move barriers and equipment from Fisherman's Wharf into Waikiki for use in security and traffic control.

Late last week, DOT officials were told they have to move the concrete barriers from Fisherman's Wharf on the makai end of Ward Avenue, Meisenzahl said.

"We're at the whim of the security measures for APEC," Meisenzahl said. "We have to put these concrete barriers where the Secret Service says to put them."

Motorists are advised to use King Street as an alternate route past the blockaded area and to anticipate delays.

On Tuesday, Reid Kurioka, who works at the University of Hawaii's College of Business, said he left his Hawaii Kai home at 6:30 a.m. and didn't get to Beretania Street, where he dropped his daughter at her baby sitter, until nearly 8 a.m.

"Normally it takes 45 minutes," he said. "Today it was almost double my normal time."

"I knew it was going to be slow," Kurioka added, "but it was worse than what I expected.

"I guess we're going to have to deal with it for two more days until Friday, which is a holiday."

Kurioka said the traffic for him started to back up as soon he approached Aina Haina.

Even after he left the freeway and got to Beretania Street the congestion did not let up.

The closing of Kapiolani Boulevard from Kalakaua Avenue to Kaheka Street will end Friday night.

City traffic officials tried to ease the congestion on Waialae Avenue and Beretania Street by controlling the traffic signals, optimizing the flow of cars.

Department of Transportation Services Deputy Director Kainani Kraut said the problems on the H-1 freeway and Waialae Avenue are "what we anticipated."

"We have told people to anticipate delays," Kraut said, "and drive with patience."

No major delays were reported by morning commuters from Oahu's west side.

City officials said for more information, drivers can go to www.honolulu.gov and click on the APEC link, or call 768-8305 (from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Friday).

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