Pride in Accomplishment: The Interstate H-3 Project
Hawaii, America's 50th state, is known around the world for gentle trade winds and tropical beauty. While Hawaii takes pride in these natural wonders, we are also proud of our human achievements. One truly spectacular accomplishment is the completion of the Interstate H-3 freeway on the island of Oahu. H-3, 37 years "in the making," was officially opened on Dec.12, 1997.
You are not alone if you are asking, "How can there be an interstate highway on an island?" In the past year, people as professionally and geographically diverse as a schoolteacher in Virginia and a country-western disc jockey in San Francisco asked me that question. The Interstate Highway System is actually a system of interstate and defense-access highways. H-3 links the Pearl Harbor Naval Base/Hickam Air Force Base complex on the south side of the island near Honolulu and the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station on the east coast.
Some have criticized H-3 as a "road to nowhere" because they believe that the military applications are not as relevant today as when the freeway was first conceived and because the highway does not connect directly to downtown Honolulu. The administrator of the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) Highways Division, Perry Manthos, responds by saying, "It is actually a road to two somewheres."
And indeed, the freeway serves several worthwhile purposes. In addition to the defense-access purpose, the highway provides much-needed safety and capacity improvements for the traveling public as a whole. For example, it gives relief from the tight curves and steep grades of the two other highways that cross the Koolau ("koh' oh lou") Mountains. These mountains run across Oahu between the windward (east) and leeward (west and south) sides. H-3 also supports planned development in the central and western parts of Oahu - specifically, the planned "Second City" of Kapolei. (The "Second City" concept combines residential, commercial, academic and governmental facilities in a planned community that is being developed to relieve congestion in the primary urban center of Honolulu.)
H-3, the largest and most expensive public works project ever completed in Hawaii, has a long and volatile history. H-3, along with H-1 and H-2, was authorized by the Statehood Act of 1960 with funds coming from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). H-3 was originally envisioned as a six-lane highway through the Moanalua Valley at a cost of $250 million. Some 37 years later, the highway was completed through the Halawa Valley at a cost of $1.3 billion.
Descending from the windward side of the Koolau Mountain, motorists on H-3 have a spectacular view of Kaneohe Bay.
The proposed project was the first in Hawaii to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), following the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Environmental studies were conducted for the project over a period of 20 years, and, if the reports were stacked one on top of the other, the stack would be more than a meter high!1
The freeway had to be rerouted several times before the actual construction could begin. The final alignment accommodates a flood control project and the expansion of a park, and it avoids historic agricultural terraces and specific Halawa Valley sites considered culturally significant by some native Hawaiians.
The only way to complete a project of this magnitude and complexity is through partnership, said Herb Tateishi of Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas Inc. Tateishi served as the general engineering consultant for HDOT during the construction of H-3. The H-3 partnership encompassed federal, state, and local government; the public; environmental, cultural, and community groups; and financial, administrative, and technical professionals.
The operation of the U.S. Coast Guard Omega Station shown right-center, presented some obstacles to the H-3 contractors. The station was deactivated in September 1997.
Partnership With the U.S. Coast Guard: The Omega Station
Which is more important: safety, mobility, or aesthetics? Clearly this is a rhetorical question because human safety is always paramount. However, mobility and aesthetics must be preserved or enhanced to the extent possible, especially in Hawaii. For H-3, a partnership of FHWA, HDOT, and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) successfully balanced these issues.
The USCG's Omega Station, located on the windward side of the Koolau Mountains near the mouth of the trans-Koolau tunnels, was part of a worldwide navigational system for ships and aircraft. This system, which began operations in 1972, became obsolete over time and was replaced by the satellite global positioning system (GPS). Nevertheless, during the construction of H-3, the Omega Station was operational and was used by some airlines, surface ships, and submarines. The operation of the Omega Station created some obstacles to the H-3 contractors, and even the decision by the Coast Guard in December 1996 to deactivate the station resulted in more problems to be overcome before the highway could be opened.
The station included several buildings, as well as the antenna. The building that contained the transmitter was originally built by the U.S. Navy in World War II to be a critical communications center. The building was bombproof with reinforced concrete walls more than 3 meters thick. The antenna comprised six cables spanning the steep ridges on either side of the valley. Suspended approximately 600 meters above the valley floor, each span consisted of 2.12 kilometers of heavy aluminum-clad steel cable. The spans were interconnected to each other and held taut by the counterweight tower. They were anchored by a concrete pad and a steel anchor tower.2
The proximity of the antenna cables to the highway created two potentially serious problems. If the supports failed, the heavy cables would fall onto the highway, thus creating the potential for serious injury. Also, radiation emitted by the antenna might be harmful to workers and motorists.
The radiation "causes large insulated objects near the station to become energized, providing a small shock to anyone coming in contact with these items. HDOT was concerned that 'surprise shocks' to workers on H-3 might result in a fall or other accident. In some cases, workers in sensitive areas were required to wear gloves or rubber boots," wrote Craig Sanders in a 1993 article in Public Roads about the construction of H-3.3
Although the research was inconclusive, it was believed that the radiation might adversely affect some motorists in the vicinity of the antenna, particularly those using artificial pacemakers. To prevent this, a Faraday Shield was going to be installed over a portion of the freeway. A version of the shield had been used in industrial applications; however, its effectiveness on H-3 was theoretical at best, according to James "Gus" Gushiken of the USCG Civil Engineering Unit. The Faraday Shield would have detracted significantly from the aesthetics of the highway.
Fortunately, the USCG's decision in December 1996 to close the station by the end of September 1997 gave the H-3 coordinators the opportunity to have the antenna physically dismantled before the freeway opening and to cancel the installation of the Faraday Shield. However, instead of being the end of the story, it was actually just the beginning.
H-3 was scheduled to open on or about Dec. 15, 1997, and approximately four weeks of additional work were required after the dismantling was completed. This allowed only a very specific 45-day window to dismantle the antenna. If the work could not be done during this window, either the freeway opening would need to be delayed, or the freeway would have to be shut down after the opening for two months. As you can imagine, neither of these options was acceptable.
The traditional way to complete this process would be to blast the cables out of the sky. However, safety reasons prevented the use of this approach in the vicinity of H-3. Therefore, the cables had to be lowered without blasting.
The cost was estimated to be $1.5 million. Unfortunately, although they were primarily responsible for doing the dismantling, USCG did not have the money in their budget until 1999. They did, however, have the necessary expertise to contribute to the process. HDOT could use federal-aid funds matched with state funds, but they could not "fast-track" their state procurement process enough to meet the deadline for the freeway opening.
At this point, you may be wondering why the state did not just give the money to the Coast Guard and have the Coast Guard let the contract. Well, according to their attorneys, USCG could not legally accept money from the state; so, an alternate solution was needed. Although FHWA's federal-aid side was the principal federal partner in the Interstate H-3 project, the Central Federal Lands Highway Division (CFLHD) turned out to be the answer to this dilemma. They would let the contract using the state's money and the Coast Guard's expertise. Bonnie Hoe, USCG contracting officer, described CFLHD as a "financing conduit," and she acted as "administering contracting officer."
Using this partnership arrangement, the contract was executed for $1.3 million ($200,000 less than the estimate), and we learned that the cost and time difference between lowering and blasting was essentially moot. The operation was completed in time for the clean-up work to be done before the scheduled freeway opening.
A new partner, the city/county of Honolulu, will be added to the process in the future. They would like to convert the remaining USCG property for public recreational use. Demolition of the transmitter building with the bombproof walls will be complicated. The property also includes the so-called "Stairway to Heaven," once used by Omega Station maintenance personnel but more recently used as a hiking ladder.
Regardless of the future disposition of the property, all of the partners agreed that valuable lessons had been learned, including how to maximize and balance safety, mobility, aesthetics, and financing by working as partners.
Partnership With Community Groups: The Sign Structure Issue
The sign structure issue was another example of working in partnership to avoid the need to sacrifice aesthetics for safety.
H-3 winds its way through stunningly beautiful scenery from windward Oahu through the Halawa Valley. In fact, it is so breathtaking that there was a major concern that motorists would drive too slowly or stop altogether, thereby creating a traffic hazard.
A community group known as the Outdoor Circle is a mostly volunteer organization dedicated to preserving scenic prospects - broad views - in Hawaii. Approximately four years ago, the group heard about the plans for H-3's state-of-the-art traffic management system with a series of electronic variable message signs to provide information to motorists. At the group's request, HDOT gave a presentation on the electronic signs and supporting structures to be installed on H-3 and its connecting highways of Kahekili and Likelike. At this meeting, the signs were shown on cantilever structures (mounted on the side of the road) rather than the overhead variety.
As the signs were being installed, the Outdoor Circle noted that the signs were being mounted on large overhead structures with solid panels filling in the structure on either side of the signs. The group believed that such solid-panel structures interfered with motorists' enjoyment of the prospect and that open-truss structures permitted better viewing. They were also concerned about the number, size, and location of the signs and structures.
Of course, the purpose of traffic management signs is to give motorists important safety and operational information in time for them to make decisions and to implement those decisions safely. Signs on federal-aid highways are regulated by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which prescribes minimum size and spacing requirements.
HDOT explained to the Outdoor Circle that overhead signs were necessary because side-mounted signs would not meet the requirements in many areas. Also, the structures needed to be large enough and strong enough to withstand high winds and other climatic conditions. The open-truss structures could have been a viable option, but the solid-panel types had already been procured. Replacing them would require approximately $2 million of taxpayers' money to be added to the cost of the project.
At this point, HDOT could have pointed out that it was only because of H-3 that the beautiful prospects were available to the public at all. Indeed, without the freeway, no one - except for the few who had the ability to hike the rugged terrain - would have had an opportunity to see this scenery.
Nevertheless, instead of dwelling on what could not be done, HDOT formed a partnership with the Outdoor Circle, elected officials, and others to see what could be done. The first tangible result of this partnership came in February 1996 with a series of field trips to the project area with paint samples in hand. The idea was that if the solid panels were going to be part of the view, they should be painted a color that fits harmoniously with the surrounding landscape. Based on these field trips, the previously selected light green color was replaced by a darker grey-green to match the color of the vegetation more closely. After that, there was a lull in specific activities. However, the partners continued to gather information, and a Windward Transportation Task Force was formed to explore a number of diverse transportation issues.
In early November 1997, a meeting was held to discuss the sign structure issue. This meeting did not go particularly well. However, Manthos, then the administrator of HDOT's Oahu District Office, stepped up. He and his staff breathed new life into the partnership with the Outdoor Circle, and both sides renewed their commitment to compromise.
The partners embarked on another series of field trips, and the community group rated and ranked the sign structures and locations. They considered safety, traffic management, and the need to identify the highest priority views. That way, HDOT could focus available resources and creativity on the areas of greatest concern. Based on this cooperative evaluation, a number of feasible solutions were proposed. (It should be noted that none of the proposed remedies has been implemented yet although they are all considered reasonable.)
First of all, the largest signs would be eliminated where they were not needed. A technique known as "computer-aided graphic display" may allow the use of smaller signs and still provide adequate decision-making lead time to motorists.
Where feasible, solid panels would be replaced by open trusses at the most important scenic locations along H-3. The cost to replace signs would be defrayed by reusing the existing signs on other projects, such as the Airport Viaduct, where they match the other signs already in that area.
Also, in areas where safety would not be compromised, the side-mounted sign structures would be used instead of the overhead type.
One of the unexpected benefits of the cooperative scenic evaluation was the discovery of two signs that needed to be relocated for strictly engineering reasons. However, as a bonus, the relocation will also improve the view.
Mary Steiner, currently chief executive officer of the Outdoor Circle, is very pleased with HDOT's partnership approach. Although the process is still ongoing, she feels that both sides have learned a great deal. She is pleased that "the public involvement message was heard" by HDOT, and she believes that her group understands safety issues much better. When asked if she was concerned about the partnership continuing into the future, she replied emphatically, "The partnership will hold."
Manthos also believes that this partnership laid the groundwork for future community relationships and must continue beyond the H-3 project.
"Effective communication has reduced the air of suspicion and paved the way for the Intelligent Transportation Systems Task Force," Manthos said. The work of this task force includes developing design guidelines for traffic signs, such as putting the signs on the front of bridges, and exploring the use of "monotube supports" for areas with speed limits below 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour).
As a healing gesture, one week before the freeway opening, HDOT, the Outdoor Circle, elected officials, and local businesses got together to plant nine koa trees alongside H-3 near the tunnels. Koa wood is a very treasured commodity in Hawaii, and there were no koa trees in this area.
Partnership With the Public: A Taste of H-3
Of course, one of the most important partners in any transportation improvement effort is the general public.
Recognizing this and that there was a need to overshadow negativity and to showcase a project of which they were very proud, HDOT conducted an event called "A Taste of H-3." The objectives of the event were to allow the public to visit a portion of the H-3 project area, to see the fabulous views, and to learn about state-of-the-art tunnel technology. This viewing opportunity was particularly important because these prospects would never again be available to pedestrians when the freeway was open.
Approximately a year and a half before the opening of the freeway, there was a short window in the construction schedule. The decision was made to go forward with a public involvement event in the form of a walking tour. However, there was no budget and no paid overtime, and all work would be done by volunteers. To finance this event, HDOT sold T-shirts, golf shirts, hats, and other H-3 memorabilia ahead of time and at the event.
This view of the Windward Viaduct on H-3 also shows the striking beauty and steepness of the Koolau Mountains.
Four "open houses" for the public on two successive weekends in April 1996 were planned. However, the state decided to add an open house in March for their employees; this activity would also serve as a trial run. Because this type of effort is outside HDOT's normal activities, they needed to learn how many buses, how many restrooms, how many volunteers, and so forth would be required. Although the trial run was open only to employees and their friends, more than 3,000 people participated. The governor of Hawaii showed his support by staying all morning.
The event consisted of a 6.5-kilometer bus ride to the tunnel plaza and a 1.5-kilometer walk through the tunnel and over the viaduct - the elevated roadway. Parking was provided on a 3-kilometer stretch of the freeway.
Tickets for the public open houses were sold out a month before the events. Moreover, when it was announced that another 10,000 tickets would be made available, people lined up at the DOT building at 6 a.m., and the tickets were gone by 8 a.m. More than 30,000 people participated in the four public events.
The solid-panel structure of the overhead signs was a point of contention with a community group, which supported open-truss structures for better viewing of the scenery. The Hawaii Department of Transportation and the group, the Outdoor Circle, working together determined that by painting the structures a dark grey-green to match the color of the vegetation better than the original light green paint, the structures would fit more harmoniously with the surrounding landscape.
About 550 volunteers "worked" the open houses. Some of the volunteers came to Oahu from other Hawaiian islands at their own expense.
The "Taste of H-3" was considered an unqualified success. However, nothing is perfect. The participants had to contend with a combination of heavy rain, hot sun, and high winds. Nevertheless, they responded with true "aloha spirit."
The concessions were also very successful. In addition to the H-3 memorabilia, an abundance of food and drink was for sale. The selections included the "all-American" hot dog and a Pacific island favorite known as saimin (thick noodle soup).
More than 30,000 people attended the four "open houses" to a "Taste of H-3" before the official opening. Each open house consisted of a 6.5-kilometer bus ride to the tunnel plaza and a 1.5-kilometer walk through the tunnel and over the viaduct.
A video describing "A Taste of H-3" was made, and HDOT won an award from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials for the best public relations event in the under-$50,000 category.
Manthos considered the effort to be very significant because it helped "turn ridicule into curiosity" for some people.
At the time, HDOT planned to have a similar event the following year. But, what evolved was the "Great Trans-Koolau Trek," a 10-kilometer "fun run" held on May 11, 1997. More than 17,000 people from all over the world participated by running, walking, or pushing strollers. Because the event fell on Mother's Day, samples of the tiles used in the H-3 tunnels were adapted as Mother's Day souvenirs.
Pride in Hawaii's Past: The Opening Ceremony
The culmination of a 37-year effort occurred on Dec. 12, 1997, with a brief, but colorful, Interstate H-3 opening ceremony. The ceremony and the associated logistical and public relations arrangements took almost a year to plan, coordinate, and implement.
Participation in the event was by invitation only because of limited space and safety considerations. The speakers arrived by car, but all others were shuttled by buses from the parking lot at Aloha Stadium to the ceremony site outside the tunnels. Before the ceremony, the guests were entertained by a Marine Corps band, and the media conducted interviews with key people in the process.
The windward portals of the trans-Koolau tunnel.
At 11 a.m., the participants gathered under a tent to begin the festivities. The first part of the program consisted of the Oli ("oh' lee"), an ancient Hawaiian ceremony. The Oli could be described as a chant-prayer, and it is usually performed at the beginning of an event. There are different kinds of Oli for different purposes, such as a naming Oli or a welcoming Oli. For the opening of H-3, a cleansing Oli was performed by members of The Nation of Ku. This group of native Hawaiians had fought the project for years, but they believed that it was time to make peace with the freeway. They were concerned that the highway was cursed and might adversely affect native Hawaiians who drove on it. Therefore, they asked for permission to conduct the Oli to cleanse the freeway of any curses that remained.4
A state-of-the-art traffic operations center, staffed all day, every day, monitors traffic conditions in the tunnels and can detect vehicular fires, and crashes.
After the solemn Oli, during which no flash pictures were taken, the event took on a lighter tone. The masters of ceremony for the rest of the program were popular morning radio hosts Michael W. Perry and Larry Price. The speakers included Gov. Ben Cayetano, leaders of the state senate and house of representatives, the director of HDOT, and Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Gloria Jeff. Jeff discussed the beauty of Hawaii and the highway, the importance of the safety and mobility improvements and of planning for future development in central and western Oahu, and the state-of-the-art technology. She also praised the partnership that made it all happen. At the end of the program, the Rev. David Kaupu, chaplain of Kamehameha Schools, gave a blessing for the freeway.
The final portion of the formal program was the untying of the Maile Lei ("my' lee lay"). This is the equivalent of the ribbon-cutting in a ceremony on the "Mainland." The Maile plant, which has a very specific fragrance, is found on all of the Hawaiian Islands, but nowhere else in the world. For that reason, it evokes the "specialness" of Hawaii. Because of its special nature, the Maile Lei is never cut. Rather, it is tied when the object has not yet come to life, and then untied to represent "coming to life."
After the untying ceremony, the speakers' cars and then the buses took the official "first ride" on the new freeway. The motorcade proceeded back to Aloha Stadium for an informal reception and refreshments. The guests were greeted by music from a Navy band.
The Navy band that provided the post-ceremony music represented Pearl Harbor Naval Base on the leeward side. The Marine band that provided the pre-ceremony music represented the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station on the windward side. The symbolism here should not be lost because H-3 connects the two military bases, as well as facilitating civilian travel between the two sides of the island.
The high-tech tunnels feature transitional tunnel lighting, exhaust fans, emergency call boxes, cross passages, highway message signs, lane control devices, fresh air vents, runoff drains, fire boxes, magnetic loop detectors, carbon dioxide detectors, smoke detectors, traffic signals, video cameras, sidewalks, and weather stations.
The official opening of the freeway to traffic was scheduled for 3 p.m.; however, the actual opening occurred an hour and a half ahead of time. This was done deliberately to prevent eager motorists from lining up at the ramps in an attempt to be first to drive on the new road. The ramps were opened in a specific sequence by teams of the HDOT staff and local police officers. This opening sequence operated so well that Manthos likened it to a ballet.
In fact, the entire day went like clockwork, and Manthos considers the opening day to be his proudest H-3 achievement. He finds it especially gratifying that all the obstacles were overcome to meet an opening date that was set almost a year in advance.
Approximately 100 members of the HDOT Oahu District staff assisted with the event. Area engineer Brian Yoshida was the primary coordinator. Yoshida thanked several companies that provided the tents, buses, refreshments, and other items that cannot be legally paid for by the state. He specifically praised Parsons Brinckerhoff, Kiewit Construction, and Hawaiian Dredging for their invaluable assistance.
Herb Tateishi of Parsons Brinckerhoff played an important role in the success of the event. Everything - from determining the location of tents, restrooms, and parking to developing the contingency plan in case of rain and designing the traffic patterns - was under his care. In addition, he acted as a facilitator for the other contractors and coordinated their respective contributions.
Pride in Hawaii's Future: Technology and the Success of the Freeway
The Hawaiian Islands may be famous for their colorful traditions, but Hawaiians are ready to be among the leaders in the development and use of technology. The Interstate H-3 freeway is a an excellent example of using modern technology to serve the needs of the traveling public.
One example is the North Halawa Valley Viaduct. Yoshida considers the completion of this structure to be his proudest H-3 moment. This is the longest segmental bridge in the United States, and it is the first to be fully instrumented. The instrumentation is important because it allows the viaduct to serve as a research project.
The five-year research project, which began three years ago, will enhance understanding of actual "long-term creep and prestress losses in segmental bridges" and of the accuracy of the design models. Basically, the instruments measure the stresses in the structure under various conditions, and the results of the study will be used to verify design assumptions. Specifically, this work will assist in evaluating the computer programs that were used to design the structure. FHWA is providing 100 percent of the funding for this project.
H-3 is truly a "smart highway." It includes intelligent transportation systems (ITS) components and a state-of-the-art traffic operations center. The success of the H-3 traffic management system will serve as a model for Hawaii's future ITS programs statewide.
The traffic operations center controls all of the tunnel operations and an array of computerized traffic management tools. It monitors traffic conditions; electronically detects stalled vehicles; and provides information to motorists through variable message signs, radio broadcasts, lane-control displays, and emergency-exit signs.
Systems installed in the tunnels monitor for incidents such as vehicular fires, crashes, and disabled vehicles. The monitoring is done through the use of standard traffic loops spaced about 150 meters apart. Each vehicle is sensed; its size and speed are calculated; and its time to the next set of loops is projected. If the vehicle reaches the next set of loops within an allowable margin of the projected time, nothing happens. However, if the vehicle changes speed, stops, or changes lanes, an alarm is sent to the traffic control operator. The operator verifies the occurrence through a closed-circuit television system and responds accordingly. In addition to the variable message signs, lane-use signals, and traffic signals, the operator has the ability to override all AM, FM, and two-way radio frequencies. Therefore, he/she can send voice messages to any vehicle with an operative radio.1
Use of H-3 is exceeding all expectations. The first weekend of operation was specifically planned to allow "sightseeing." It was announced that no tickets would be given out for driving too slowly during that period. However, police officers took action when some 40 cars pulled over and stopped to take photographs. The original estimate was that the facility would carry 30 percent of the trans-Koolau traffic by the year 2008. It is carrying that amount already!
In addition to providing safety and mobility across the island and preparing for planned development, the freeway is giving much-needed relief to the drivers of military vehicles and commercial truckers who no longer have to contend with the steep grades of the trans-Koolau Pali and Likelike highways.
Also, H-3 is a disaster-relief highway. Officials have determined that the Pali and Likelike highways are unsafe in hurricane conditions and would be closed in that event. Moreover, these highways are not seismically restrained and could be severely damaged by an earthquake. Therefore, H-3 provides the only reliable trans-Koolau evacuation route.
So, what have the agencies and the public received for the 37-year, $1.3-billion investment? We now have an environmentally innovative, safe, state-of-the-art highway; new access to breathtaking beauty; mobility to support planned development in central and western Oahu; and many valuable lessons learned. We now know how pride and partnership can turn dreams into reality for Hawaii's transportation future.
- Marilyn Kali. "Hawaii's Interstate H-3 Freeway," Hawaii Department of Transportation, Public Affairs Office, Dec. 12, 1997.
- Environmental assessment for the closure of Omega Station in Hawaii, U.S. Coast Guard Civil Engineering Unit Honolulu, June 26, 1997.
- Craig Sanders. "H-3: The Island Interstate," Public Roads, Vol. 57, No. 1, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, D.C., Summer 1993, pp. 16-21.
- Pat Omandam. "H-3 NOW OPEN signs flash today," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Dec. 12, 1997.
Barbara J. Braswell recently transferred to the Rhode Island Division of FHWA to serve as realty officer and environmental program manager. During most of the period in which the article was being prepared, she was the temporary assistant division administrator for the Hawaii Division. She also acted as transportation planner, realty officer, and civil rights officer during that assignment. Ms. Braswell has a bachelor's degree in political science from Brown University.