Rail work has turned Dillingham into a dizzying maze. Impacted businesses wonder how long they can last

Some businesses have reported that they’ve lost customers and seen a drop in traffic since the rail construction started.
Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 11:04 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2023 at 10:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Businesses along Dillingham Boulevard are struggling to stay afloat as work on the Honolulu rail system turns the major thoroughfare into a construction zone.

On Wednesday, the Honolulu City Council adopted a measure that could provide some relief during the disruption, but it doesn’t mean those businesses will ever see financial assistance.

Resolution 22-281 essentially re-establishes a fund to compensate businesses impacted by the construction.

Businesses, residents raise alarms over rail construction ‘disaster’ on Kalihi thoroughfare

This isn’t a new idea — it was suggested back in 2018 and even funded, but the city never took the steps to create a program that would actually distribute that money to business owners.

“There was about $2 million one year, and then $750,000 another year,” said City Council Member Radiant Cordero, who introduced the resolution. “However, all those funds were left unused and lapsed since 2018 and ‘19.”

The utility relocation work — along Dillingham Boulevard, from Laumaka Street down past Honolulu Community College toward the Iwilei Costco — will congest the road until 2026, if it’s completed on time.

The work means that left turns are prohibited at eight intersections along a nearly mile and-a-half stretch from Dillingham, in both directions, onto side streets and driveways.

Some businesses have reported that they’ve lost customers and seen a drop in traffic since the rail construction started. Other businesses like Chicken and Brisket have decided to pack up shop and move altogether.

“The rail is coming down here and business started slowing down again, so we decided to move,” said Nolan West, co-owner of Chicken and Brisket.

West and his partners opened up shop back in 2020. They made it through the pandemic, but when the rail construction began, they say it was difficult for people to navigate Dillingham and make it into their parking lot.

Danielle Postmus, who has owned the Subway Sandwich franchise nearby for more than 20 years, says she’s lost about a quarter of her customers.

“So I tell my customers if you’re coming from Costco, turn where (Honolulu Community College) is and make a U-turn and come here, or if you’re coming from the airport you can still make a right-hand turn, but still people are not going to deal with this congestion,” she said.

We tried a suggested detour. Instead of turning left from Dillingham west-bound to Kokea, we turned right a block later on Kohou Street, then right on North King and then right again on Kokea. The detour added three minutes.

Many drivers choose to avoid the thoroughfare altogether.

“A lot of people have started going down Nimitz so it’s been spreading out the traffic a little bit more away from the restaurant. We’re going to be moving to Pearl Highlands to hopefully boost that up again,” added West, who says the eatery had its last day open this past Sunday.

They’re not the only business that has decided to pack up and move.

Hana Tea, just around the corner, has also closed. The shop’s social media pages say that they’re worried about the uncertainty and the lack of business.

In response to this story, HART’s Director of Government Relations and Public Involvement Joey Manahan released a statement, which read in part:

“For the past several months, the Public Involvement teams of both HART and its Contractor have worked closely with Dillingham-area businesses, schools, and residences to inform them of construction and traffic impacts, and to address any related concerns.”

“HART’s proactive community outreach includes monthly public Business and Community meetings to provide updates on the construction and to address input, door-to-door fliers and direct mailers, weekly e-blasts, monthly updates at Neighborhood Board meetings, and one-on-one meetings with numerous condominium associations, businesses and organizations.”

Manahan urged those affected to reach HART via a 24/7 hotline at (808) 566-2299 and through email at info@honolulutransit.org.