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Leaders' ride to Ko Olina closes roads

By Kevin Dayton /

LAST UPDATED: 11:47 a.m. HST, Nov 14, 2011

Churchgoers trying to get to Sunday services became trapped in an unholy traffic mess on the H-1 freeway as police and military crews closed the westbound corridor to make way for motorcades carrying world leaders to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meetings at Ko Olina.

Wayne "Doc" Wilson, director of music at Christ Church Uniting Disciples and Presbyterians, had planned for a quick trip from his home in Makakilo to church in Kailua. Instead, he spent three hours in a bewildering traffic maze that diverted him to downtown Honolulu, Waikiki, Hawaii Kai and Waimanalo.

He didn't make it to church until after the service was over, and the choir had to perform without him.

"It was insane," said Wilson. "It was very frustrating because there was nothing I could do about it."

The Rev. David Kieffer, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church of Mililani, said two of his Sunday school teachers called to say they would not even attempt to navigate the traffic from Ewa to Mililani, and Kieffer said attendance at services Sunday was one-third to half below normal.

"I think they just decided to not even try," Kieffer said of his missing parishioners.

Police and the Secret Service closed overpasses, underpasses and the westbound lanes of the freeway from about 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. as the world leaders traveled from their hotels in Waikiki and Kahala to the Marriott in Ko Olina, said John M. Cummings III, a spokesman for the city's Department of Emergency Management. The Leaders' Meeting at Ko Olina was the last event of the six-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Surface streets in Waikiki were also shut down Sunday, Cummings said, and motorists reported that traffic backed up. The shutdown rippled out to areas well beyond H-1 as feeder roads to the freeway were also closed. Long traffic backups were also reported on the Honolulu-bound side of H-2.

A similar lockdown was carried out on the eastbound side of H-1 and other streets from Ko Olina to Waikiki shortly after 4:30 p.m. as APEC leaders returned to Waikiki.

A city information officer used Twitter, a social media site, to urge motorists to use alternate routes if possible and to "be patient and drive with aloha." The freeway reopened shortly after 5 p.m., but city officials warned the public to expect additional closures Sunday night and this morning as world leaders depart from Oahu.

Police have said that the Secret Service closes the roadways when President Barack Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are traveling. The city advised Oahu motorists to be patient during the shutdowns and avoid traveling on or near the freeway, if possible.

Wilson said he realized he had a problem Sunday morning as he approached the overpass that routes eastbound traffic off H-1 toward H-3, and saw a military vehicle and police cars with flashing blue lights blocking the way.

Two lanes of cars were stopped cold, and motorists were backing up on the freeway to try to get out of the tangle, Wilson said. He veered right, figuring he could continue on the freeway and exit at Likelike Highway.

Not a chance. The Likelike and Pali highway overpasses were also blocked, and Wilson said he finally made a right turn at the Pali into downtown out of frustration. He was then herded by police and security all the way makai down to Ala Moana Boulevard and into Waikiki.

His car was searched by security at a checkpoint at the entrance to Waikiki, but Wilson was immediately instructed to reverse course and head back out of Waikiki the way he came, on Ala Moana Boulevard. He was finally able to turn to resume his travel toward Diamond Head, but encountered more police diversions that sent him down side streets all through town.

"I'm at the church still gathering up the strength to make the trip back home," Wilson said Sunday afternoon.

In West Oahu, security checkpoints were established around the Marriott hotel in Ko Olina, where the leaders met. Access to the security zone around the hotel was restricted to residents and local business owners and employees.

Traffic was also restricted on the Waianae-Ko Olina exit ramp from Farrington Highway, and APEC security also prompted the closure of the Waimanalo Gulch landfill and city refuse convenience centers Sunday.

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