It’s shortly before 10 p.m. on the H-1 freeway, and as a single lane of cars slowly processes east toward the Queen Emma overpass Gov. Neil Abercrombie is admiring the driving maneuvers of road crews on the fully closed west-bound roadway, as they work to rebuild the lane closest to the median.
“This guy is like Steve McQueen out here – he’s flying,” Abercrombie quips, as a worker driving a loader makes sharp, quick turns. “These guys are not messing around. …By doubling up the crews and giving them the space we can decrease the amount of time to get this done.”
His comments came amid a media tour Wednesday with transportation officials of the overdue work being done along the H-1, in the heart of town. The project is in the midst of a two-week period where the west-bound lanes are closed 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., excluding weekends, from the Vineyard Boulevard off-ramp to Halona Street.
Crews are digging some 14 inches deep into stretches of the freeway in both directions, and the contractor completing the project says the full westbound closures allow its two crews to rebuild some 1,600 feet of lane per night — working more safely and efficiently than they would if cars were driving past.
There’s been much publicity about the project during this first, two-week stretch of full closures in one direction on the H-1. But officials with the project contractor, Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company, advise that starting in approximately late April drivers can expect about three straight months of overnight closures in one direction.
The schedule will likely involve a month and a half of overnight full eastbound closures, followed by a month and a half of westbound closures, Hawaiian Dredging Superintendent Colin Ching said Wednesday. That’s when crews will go back and repave and restripe the roadway, after having rebuilt it, Ching said.
The project involves restriping the roadway on the H-1 from the Pali onramp to approximately the Likelike onramp to add a fourth lane. “The irony is, with three lanes, you had a higher posted speed but everyone was going slower because you couldn’t move,” Abercrombie said Wednesday.
Currently, the H-1 roadway is being rebuilt with a more durable pavement-asphalt mix that transportation officials say will last about five years longer than asphalt alone — but the road’s life also depends on whether more vehicles eventually use the road.
Some 200,000 vehicles travel along the H-1 in town, officials say.
The massive project, expected to wrap in July, is part of a spate of overdue road work being done by city and state crews. As he watched crews carve into the freeway, Abercrombie said residents will probably feel toward him and Honolulu Kirk Caldwell a combination of frustration at all the traffic-causing roadwork and gratitude that the roads are finally being fixed.
“It has been intolerable,” Abercrombie said. But it’s important to “explain to people what you’re doing and they’ll make up in their own minds if it makes sense.”