Contraflow on Pali Highway begins, paving the way for a smoother commute

‘It could be months’ before Honolulu-bound lanes of Pali Highway reopen

PALI HIGHWAY (HawaiiNewsNow) - It appeared to be a smoother commute for Windward Oahu drivers on Thursday morning after the state reopened lanes of the Pali Highway for Honolulu-bound commuters.

Starting at 5 a.m., the state contraflowed Kailua-bound lanes to be used for town-bound commuters. The contraflow lasted until 9 a.m. with no major problems reported.

The partial reopening was aimed at easing gridlock after a landslide on Monday forced the closure of both directions of the major thoroughfare. On Wednesday, officials acknowledged it “could be months” before Honolulu-bound lanes of the highway reopen.

The morning contraflow will continue until further notice. The state will also change direction of the lanes for the afternoon commute.

Here’s how the contraflow will work:

  • Kaneohe-bound lanes of the Pali Highway will be used for town-bound commuters.
  • The morning contraflow will run from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • In the afternoons, starting at 3 p.m., Kaneohe-bound lanes will be used for Kaneohe-bound traffic.
  • For now, the afternoon contraflow will run from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and then the highway will be closed again.

Ed Sniffen, state Transportation Department deputy director for highways, said the contraflow was the best ― and only ― short-term solution to ease traffic for Windward Oahu commuters.

“We just want to make sure that when we open this up, we’re very cautious about it," he said, in a news conference Thursday. “I wish I had better news for everybody.”

The problems started Monday, when multiple landslides sent SUV-sized boulders and mounds of debris onto first the Kailua-bound and then the Honolulu-bound lanes of the highway, sending three people to the hospital.

In the days that followed, the situation worsened.

Overnight, large rocks continued to rain down onto the town-bound lanes, and the landslides also damaged portions of Old Pali Road, leaving slabs of concrete perched precariously overhead.

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Sniffen said officials are considering several options to stabilize the hillsides above the townbound lanes, including “structural solutions” that could be built on site.

“We’re re-looking at the options here,” he said.

He added the contraflow “may go on for months” to provide needed capacity in the mornings and afternoons.

The Pali Highway sees about 50,000 vehicles per day, and bringing the two lanes on the highway back into service are “going to be big” for easing congestion, Sniffen said.

On Wednesday morning, the highway closure continued to snarl traffic for Windward Oahu drivers, adding a half an hour or more to drive times.

“It was very slow coming through,” said Kahaluu resident Brad Cooper.

He added that even though he left his home early Tuesday, the drive to town that usually takes him 25 minutes still took more than a hour using the Likelike Highway.

The heavy traffic on the major roadways overflowed onto side streets.

“We didn’t even actually get on the highway. It was just the road that sits next to the highway so it was much longer than anticipated,” said Honolulu resident Ann Miller.

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Authorities said there were at least two separate landslides Monday, which came after a weekend of heavy rains.

The more serious landslide was into the Honolulu-bound lanes and happened about 6 p.m.

Authorities said a 43-year-old woman sustained serious injuries from falling debris, paramedics said. Two children, ages 9 and 2, were also taken to a hospital in stable condition.

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About an hour earlier, a landslide came down onto Kailua-bound lanes.

The last landslide onto the Pali Highway was in August, and following that incident, the state ordered specialized impact fencing for the area. But that fencing would no longer work for the hillside, Sniffen said.

This story will be updated.

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