Could a tow truck have solved last week's traffic mess? - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Could a tow truck have solved last week's traffic mess?

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A large tow truck could have solved the huge traffic jam last week when both ZipMobiles went down, according to the company that previously held the ZipMobile contract for 16 years.

When both ZipMobiles became inoperable and lost power last Tuesday, thousands of people were stuck in traffic for hours on Oahu because the Zipper lane remained open, cutting off two of four Ewa-bound lanes on the H-1 Freeway.

The ZipMobile contractor is a company called Zip U There that has had the contract for the past year after underbidding Safety Systems Hawaii, the company that had the ZipMobile contract since it began in 1998. Safety Systems was the high bidder at $1.94 million, compared to Zip U There, which bid $1.58 million and won the contract from the state Department of Transportation.

Several times in the last few years, Safety Systems used a large tow truck to tow the ZipMobile to close the Zip lanes when the machine lost power or broke its drive shaft.

"Between the two of them, they made a really good team and there wasn't much that they couldn't handle on the machines during the course of the contract,” said Andrew Macdonald, Safety System's Hawaii general manager. He was referring to the two men who operated the ZipMobile for his company who knew how to fix problems on the fly because they had years of experience.

"They ran for 14 and eight years between the two of them, so one of them is fully mechanical. The other is on the computer, analytics side of it," Macdonald said.

Bruce Kagawa is the president of the contractor that runs the ZipMobile for the state now. He is a former manager at Safety Systems who oversaw the ZipMobile operation while employed there and started his own company that won the bid away from Safety Systems.

Kagawa said he had a large tow truck on standby last Tuesday but said, "Towing it was not an option."

"We wouldn't have been able to put the Zip wall back correctly,” Kagawa said, because the hydraulics were down since the unit suffered a full power failure.

But the maintenance manual for the ZipperLane obtained by Hawaii News Now says even if the main engine ceases to operate, a"backup auxiliary engine" would provide hydraulic power to move the barriers that would allow a tow truck to tow it.

The state Department of Transportation released a statement saying: "Even if the ZipMobile were moved with a tow truck the parts that close the barrier would not work properly and could have caused significant damage to both the vehicle and barrier ultimately creating longer delays."

“Towing the Zipmobile would not have closed the barriers because the damaged computer system made the vehicle's functions inoperable,” the DOT said.

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