State DOT officials take blame for ZipMobile traffic jam screw-ups

Published: Apr. 1, 2015 at 8:16 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 1, 2015 at 9:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State transportation officials apologized to motorists and admitted to a series of blunders in dealing with Tuesday's ZipMobile breakdown.

"I do understand what a horrific situation we had with traffic yesterday," said Gov. David Ige at a State Capitol news conference Wednesday morning.

When a reporter asked him if the state transportation department responded competently to the ZipMobile breakdowns, Ige said: "I think we can do better. I would agree with you that we weren't the best in organizing communication and getting information out."

The state's deputy director for Highways, Ed Sniffen, repeatedly took the blame and apologized at another news conference.

"This is my responsibility,” Sniffen said. “This is really my mistake, especially on the communications piece, especially on how we looked at repairing the equipment and what happened. So I'm going to fix it."

Sniffen admitted the DOT was slow to notify police, public schools and other agencies about the problems and released inaccurate information.

For instance, the state told drivers they could use the Zipper lane going West Bound starting about 3 p.m. Tuesday, but DOT workers whose job it is to open the Nimitz Highway entrance to the Zipper lane were stuck in traffic, delaying the opening by at least 45 minutes and making gridlock worse.

"I didn't anticipate the gridlock that was going to happen on Nimitz and I should have," Sniffen said.

DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara was off-island on vacation Tuesday through the end of the week, which the DOT says led to other problems.

For instances, DOT updates were not being sent on social media like Twitter and Facebook in the initial hours of the crisis that stranded motorists could have benefited from.

State Transportation Director Ford Fuchigami said, "Unfortunately, yesterday was the perfect storm in terms of everything falling apart while we tried to get out and get as much information as possible. Unfortunately, this thing was such a fluid thing, things were changing every single minute, that as we put out information, the situation changed."

Because of the traffic, Ewa Beach State Rep. Matt Lopresti slept on the love seat in his State Capitol office for three hours until just after 3 a.m., when he drove home.

"It's an avalanche of problems and there's a lot of places that the state needs to improve. It's not one thing, it's not one person. It's the whole system," Lopresti said.

"If something like this can shut down or gridlock our system, definitely improvements are necessary sooner rather than later," Sniffen said.

Fuchigami said he will immediately ask the State Legislature for approximately $11 million to replace the two ZipMobiles, which are roughly 16 years old and have an approximate 20-year life span.

Last year, the administration of former Gov. Neil Abercrombie administration chose not to ask lawmakers to replace the aging machines, even after both of them failed in January of 2014. The Abercrombie administration choose to spend significantly less money to replace some parts to keep them operating, Fuchigami said.

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