The H-3 Highway in Hawaii

Feb 9, 2014 6 comments

The H-3 Highway also known as John A. Burns Freeway on the island of O'ahu, is considered one of the most beautiful and most controversial freeway in Hawaii. Completed in 1997, the 16-mile H-3 connects Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Pu‘uloa, on O‘ahu’s southern coast, to the Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Mokapu Peninsula, on O‘ahu’s eastern coast. Interstate H-3 begins at the Hālawa Interchange with Interstates H-1 and H-201. The freeway then runs along a viaduct through Hālawa Valley for about 6 miles, tunnels through the Ko'olau Mountains, takes another viaduct built along the side of Haiku Valley until it reaches the town of Kaneohe. The freeway then continues to the Halekou Interchange finally terminating at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii.


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H-3 winds its way through stunningly beautiful scenery from windward Oahu through the Halawa Valley. In fact, it is so breathtaking that there was a major concern that motorists would drive too slowly or stop altogether, thereby creating a traffic hazard.

Orders for the freeway were granted in 1960, but construction couldn’t start until the late 1980s due to enormous community protest by environmentalists who wanted to preserve the natural environment and rural character unique to Hawaii. Environmental complaints and legal challenges halted construction at many points. Finally in an unprecedented move, freeway proponent U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye pushed through Congress to have the freeway exempted from most environmental laws with a bill that was passed in October 1986. This was followed by a series of court actions against the new law, but a final ruling allowed the construction to go forward.

H-3 is one of the most expensive Interstate Highways ever built, on a cost per mile basis. Its final cost was $1.3 billion, or approximately $80 million per mile. The highway includes a state-of-the-art traffic operations center that monitors traffic conditions in the tunnels and can detect stalled vehicles, vehicular fires, and crashes. Operators even have the ability to override all AM, FM, and two-way radio frequencies to transmit voice messages to any vehicle with an operative radio.

The high-tech tunnels feature transitional tunnel lighting, exhaust fans, emergency call boxes, cross passages, highway message signs, lane control devices, fresh air vents, runoff drains, fire boxes, magnetic loop detectors, carbon dioxide detectors, smoke detectors, traffic signals, video cameras, sidewalks, and weather stations. The success of the H-3 traffic management system served as a model for Hawaii's future ITS programs statewide.


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Sources: Wikipedia, Federal Highway Administration, Dennis Kawaharada


  1. Brilliant. Let's destroy the environment so we can drive from one military base to another more quickly.

    1. To asshole "anonymous"

      The environmental impact is minuscule when compared to the type of impact that a volcano would have on the same landscape.

      Nature will adapt to this highway as it does with natural hazards.

    2. To the person who said "Nature will adapt to this highway as it does with natural hazards,"

      I must say that this is completely inaccurate due to the fact that much of the damaged the contraction had created was from humans. Environmental and human caused problems completely differ from each other rendering the effects more or less disasterous. For example, a volcanic eruption would destroy a large portion of an ecosystem, but the disaster has natural benefits such as more land for them to live on which will help certain species grow in population. For land that has been destroyed, since volcanic rock can become fertile in a short amount of time, land regeneration will come shortly afterwards. Now, take a look at the construction of the H-3. As we know, this freeway was created for the purpose of getting to one military complex to another. Though H-3 has been helpful to getting from Pearl Harbor to Marine Corps Base, the construction of this highway has led to the presuming extinction of the O'ahu 'Alauahio which was listed as critically endangered under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Halawa Valley where the H-3 now stands was one of the last remaining habitats for this species that is now (probably)extinct, and for the species left behind, their habitat was reduced rapidly. Now you may be asking yourself, "why is it so bad to lose a few useless birds?" Well, in the forests of Hawai'i, they are essential to the watersheds and the function of their ecosystems. In order to have a functioning forest you must also have fauna to keep it alive which the O'ahu 'Alauahio ate the invertebrates under the bark of trees which in term helped the trees survive. This niche the bird had obtained through years of evolution had kept insect populations in check. For such high quality water in Hawaii, the species in Halawa(and other parts throughout O'ahu and Hawaii as a whole) play a key role in its quality by helping trees remove unwanted insects out of them. Finally, now that the H-3 stands in the way of this unique ecosystem, no regeneration can occur since the H-3 left no space for new trees. Now since one small bird and its ecosystem was destroyed by concrete, how will they "adapt" to the changes we have enforced on them.

      These species are alive and try to make a living just like us. The thing is, our way of living shouldn't effect the way they live as well. Nature cannot simply adapt to rapid changes as we can, so its our kuleana to ensure that we leave these ecosystems alone and help preserve them for our future generations. Sadly, we have failed to Mālama ‘Āina which destroyed the way of life both for us and this fragile ecosystem.

  2. Can you see the obvious flaw in the award winning design?
    Once you're on it - there's NO TURN AROUND from one end to the other.

  3. You're joking, right? Of course there are interchanges at each end so that you can go back, plus there are exits along the way. What the hell are you talking about?

  4. Drove this highway as a tourist in 2011 and has to be one of the more stunning drives I have been on, the views were amazing.


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