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Roadways, airport to get upgrades for conference


The state and city will spruce up Honolulu Airport and the road to Waikiki with about $39 million in beautification projects ahead of the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative, which will place Hawaii on a global stage.

A $37 million Ala Moana Boulevard and Nimitz Highway project, 73 percent of it funded with federal dollars, is under way. And Honolulu Airport will see about $2 million worth of projects.

"We’re trying to find projects that are appropriate to do in any case, in terms of Hawaii’s quality of life and economy, and utilize APEC as an accelerator," Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz said in an interview this week.

Much of the work will focus on what APEC attendees experience in the first hour, from the minute they walk off the plane to baggage claim, the hailing of a cab and the ride to their Waikiki hotel.

"We asked the airports administrator to take us through the arrival experience for an APEC attendee," Schatz said. "We went foot by foot … to ensure that we show the APEC attendees aloha as soon as they get off the plane and that the moment they set foot in our airport, they understand that they’re in Hawaii."

Many of the cleanup and maintenance projects at the airport — buffing, sweeping, painting — will be completed just before the state welcomes 21 leaders of Pacific Rim economies, including Hawaii-born President Barack Obama.

A project to beautify Ala Moana Boulevard and Nimitz Highway — including removal of overhead utility lines — from Kalakaua Avenue to Queen Street began last month and is expected to be completed by September.

Road projects, such as landscaping Nimitz Highway and removing graffiti, will be performed along the predicted route APEC officials will take from the airport. The Secret Service is not disclosing what routes will be taken.

"Although the Secret Service can’t confirm routes, we used our best judgment in terms of where the delegation would be driving," Schatz said.

In an informational hearing yesterday before state House committees on international affairs and tourism, APEC 2011 Host Committee Vice Chairman Tim Johns, president of Bishop Museum, said the state will not know about traffic disruption caused by APEC until weeks before the conference begins.

"We’ve been assured that they’re going to be kept at a minimum, and there will be no wholesale (road) closures," Johns said.

State Rep. Kymberly Pine (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) said that when Obama visits Hawaii, traffic disruptions are not brief. "So whatever type of information that we can give to our residents, whether to avoid driving on these days or carpool on these days, would be very helpful to us," Pine said.

State transportation spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said the airport projects will be funded by the airport special maintenance fund.

"One of the most neglected areas is where all these foreign arrivals come in," Meisenzahl said, adding some areas haven’t seen repairs for more than a decade. "It’s kind of dingy. I don’t think there’s a better way to describe it."

Other improvements include installing a rock garden as well as permanently changing signs to reflect the languages of APEC nations, which include China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

"The Customs and Border Patrol language is in Spanish and English. It’s just standard issue," Schatz said.

Out of 2 million international visitors to Hawaii in 2009, 88 percent of them came from APEC nations. The event is expected to draw 17,000 attendees, including 1,000 business executives, and 2,000 members of global media, and bring about $120 million to the state.

"What we’re trying to do is reorient our community and visitor industry to be better connected with the Asia and Pacific region," Schatz said. "Everything we do for APEC ought to be a permanent reconfiguration of how the airport works."

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