Thousands Hawaii Residents Affected in Freeway Accident

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle defended shutting down all six westbound lanes of the H-1 Freeway, which is used by 200,000 vehicles a day, saying it was a safety decision.

An excavator being towed by an Army truck slammed into a concrete pedestrian overpass Tuesday afternoon, forcing the closure of the freeway for about 13 hours and causing gridlock on side roads into the wee hours Wednesday.

Many motorists reported their commute home to the suburbs of Mililani, Ewa, Kapolei and the Waianae Coast took upward of five hours. Scores of commuters slept in or abandoned their cars on the freeway.

“I want to thank the public for maintaining their calm during this situation,” Lingle said. “It was a massive disruption. We regret that they had to live through this yesterday.

“They can count on us to work hard to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” she said. “Having said that, it was a pretty freak kind of an accident that occurred.”

Crews removed the damaged portion of bridge before dawn Wednesday, and all lanes of the freeway were reopened, although the zipper commuter lane was not set up because of the demolition work.

Lingle said the Army did not have the required permit to transport the hydraulic excavator. The truck was carrying the earth-mover to Schofield Barracks from Pearl Harbor when it hit the bridge in Aiea.

The Army, in a statement, apologized for the traffic mayhem caused by a vehicle from the 82nd Engineer Company, 29th Engineer Battalion, 8th Sustainment Command.

“We offer our regrets and apologies to all the residents of Oahu who were inconvenienced by this accident,” said spokesman Lt. Col. John C. Williams, who did not identify the soldiers in the vehicle.

Williams said the Army was investigating and reviewing “all procedures with the goal of preventing future accidents of this type.”

State Transportation Director Rod Haraga said the truck also damaged four freeway signs before the pedestrian overpass.

Lingle said communications could have been better, especially with the tourism industry, major employers and the public. The state is now studying setting up a 511 hot line motorists can call to learn about any major traffic disruptions and whether contra-flowing the H-1 is possible.

“Had this been any kind of civil emergency, a communication system is in place,” she said. “But when it was viewed as a safety issue and then a traffic issue, I don’t think the same steps were taken that we would have in a civil defense emergency.”

Past 1 a.m., westbound cars were still bumper-to-bumper and being funneled off the freeway onto Kamehameha Highway, while lines of headlights stretched for miles along alternate routes.

Haraga called it the “worst day on record” for Oahu traffic.

He said all lanes, including the zipper lane, would be restored for Thursday’s morning commute.