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H-3 Testing Forging Ahead Despite Feds Disapproval

Casey Harlow/HPR
Drivers are directed to the testing site in the Harano Tunnels on the H-3 Freeway on Sept. 1, 2020.

Federal officials have denied the state’s request to close the H-3 Freeway to hold surge testing for COVID-19. 

Despite the rejection, state officials held its first round of testing on the freeway yesterday. And it plans to close H-3 again tomorrow for more testing, risking a loss of federal funds.

More than 1,700 O?ahu residents were tested on the H-3 yesterday, the first of the two days of surge testing on the freeway coordinated by city, state and federal agencies.

Wait times for the tests varied. Those coming from the Halawa end of the freeway waited between half an hour to 45 minutes. Those approaching from the windward side had an average wait time of around 10 minutes.

It’s not clear if there will be consequences from the state’s decision to proceed with the testing despite disapproval from the Federal Highway Administration.

State Transportation Deputy Director Ed Sniffen says the federal highway agency raised several issues.

"The concerns in the letter were that ... we were impacting traffic, that we were impacting commerce, impacting operation from K?ne?ohe Marine Corps, and impacting safety," he said. "So with that letter, I took that as my responsibility, that I didn’t give them enough information for them to understand the gravity of the situation that we’re in here."


Gov. David Ige says despite the federal rejection, he felt the state made the appropriate preparations on the freeway to address any concerns.

"We do believe that this is a safe testing site," he said. "It has all of the attributes that we would want – in terms of the community’s convenience.


"You know, we do know having a surge testing site where we’re expecting thousands of people to come in our neighborhood community is going to create traffic and gridlock. And although they’ve improved the processes tremendously, we wanted to see what the capacity of this site would be, so that we would really minimize the impact on other communities."


Sniffen says he will continue to work with highway administration to find a solution and get the proper approvals.

But if the situation is not resolved, he says the federal government could withhold millions in federal funds.

"Every year, we get about $180 million from the federal government – as our authority," he said. "During that time, anytime we ask the federal government to be able to move forward on a project, we contract with them and they obligate the funds to us. They could potentially hold back on obligations, until such time that we cure whatever potential problems that they see."


Officials are urging residents to take advantage of the H-3 testing event tomorrow. They can register online at doineedacovid19test.com.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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