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ZipperLane ‘zipped’ just in time for pau-hana traffic

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    Repairs to the back-up ZipMobile were successful with workers starting the machine up again at about 12:45 p.m. Wednesday.
    Repairs to the back-up ZipMobile were successful with workers starting the machine up again at about 12:45 p.m. Wednesday.
    The ZipMobile shut down around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
    Commuters heading to town with two or more passengers are able to use the ZipperLane on the Ewa-bound H-1 freeway Wednesday morning.


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Repairs to the back-up ZipMobile were successful Wednesday, a giant relief for afternoon rush-hour commuters who spent hours Tuesday evening gridlocked on roadways across Leeward Oahu.

One of two ZipMobiles was fixed around 12:45 p.m. and back in action by 2 p.m. City officials announced shortly after 4 p.m. that the ZipperLane had been "zipped" shut.

Ewa-bound traffic was heavy for most of the afternoon, but flowed smoothly once the ZipMobile opened up two westbound lanes. 

The repair parts arrived from the mainland before noon and technicians had one ZipMobile working soon afterward.

Early Wednesday, with the fate of the ZipMobile still in limbo, state and city leaders granted department heads the authority to send thousands of workers home early in hopes of easing the afternoon rush hour.

State officials warned in the morning that even if the ZipMobile is fixed, it would still take hours to "zip" the lane closed from Waikele to Halawa so traffic would likely be worse than normal.

"I would ask that people understand that there will be delays," said Ed Sniffen, the Highways Division deputy director. "Please plan ahead and understand that there will be delays."

But Wednesday’s traffic was no where near the "carmageddon" of Tuesday when many West and Central Oahu residents reported spending five hours or more in their car as they tr

The traffic nightmare began Tuesday morning after both ZipMobiles broke down, leaving the morning ZipperLane open. Officials said after the main ZipMobile broke down, they tried to fix it with parts from the back-up, but ended up knocking that one out of service too.

Sniffen took responsibility for not notifying the public earlier about the traffic problems and for not using the second ZipMobile to close the ZipperLane before trying to fix the broken ZipMobile with parts from the backup ZipMobile.

"We didn’t anticipate the gridlock that was going to happen and we should have," Sniffen said.

Following Tuesday’s island-wide gridlock, Gov. David Ige directed his department heads to use "discretion and flexibility" in deciding whether to allow state workers to leave early an attempt to reduce congestion as the ZipperLane continues to block two west-bound lanes of the four-lane H-1 Freeway from the airport viaduct to the Waiawa overpass.

City officials said workers who do not deal directly with the public could be allowed to leave early. But all city services to the public would remain open until 4:30 p.m. as usual.

Ige said he’s heard plenty of traffic horror stories following Tuesday’s break-down of the ZipMobile, which occurred around 9:30 a.m. 

"I do understand what a horrific situation we had with traffic," Ige said. "Clearly it is not a situation that works for anyone."

City Director of Transportation Services Mike Formby said city express buses that left downtown at 5 p.m. did not make it to Waipahu until 10:26 p.m.

Ige called the congestion "an unfortunate sequence of events."

"This is one of those learning moments," Ige said, and "an opportunity to learn what better efforts we can make."

State Department of Transportation Director Ford Fuchigami said he spoke with the ZipMobile’s software manufacturer who told him that power pack and CPU problems are a "rare occurrence."

Ige called Tuesday’s traffic gridlock was a "perfect storm" of events.

Ige and Fuchigami said the state did not anticipate both ZipMobiles breaking down at the same time. Newly hired DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara is also on vacation and was not available to help with communications.

Fuchigami said he has talked with the ZipMobile manufacturer about replacing both ZipMobiles, which are about 15 years old and nearly the end of their 20-year lifespan.

The cost of replacing both vehicles is about $11 million, Fuchigami said.

Ige said his administration is considering asking the Legislature to add the cost to the budget.

To help reduce congestion Wednesday, the city and state canceled freeway and road construction projects Wednesday in Ewa-bound lanes, including the H-1 viaduct widening project until the ZipMobile is fixed.

Rail transit construction work on Kamehameha Highway in the Ewa-direction in the Pearl City/Aiea area and around the airport and Pearl Harbor is also canceled. Work continues on the Waiawa interchange on the H-1 freeway in the town-bound lanes.

The Board of Water Supply also canceled repair work on Kapiolani Boulevard.

At a city news conference Wednesday afternoon, police also acknowledged that officers conducting a traffic enforcement effort Tuesday afternoon on Waimano Home Road gave out tickets to motorists for using cell phones while traffic was backing up on Kamehameha Highway and the freeway.

But as soon as police were notified about the traffic problems, the enforcement action stopped.

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