Hawaii Traffic and Commute Times

Before moving to Hawaii I heard about two problems: the traffic and the schools. Well I’m here on the island and I’m going to tell you the ground truth. Yes, O’ahu has bad traffic during certain times of day, in certain areas. But it’s not all bad!

Why O’ahu Has Bad Traffic

All of the affordable housing on O’ahu is near Ewa Beach, Mililani, and Kapolei, which are on the west side and central part of the island. But most of the jobs are near Pearl Harbor, Hickam AFB, and Honolulu.

Hawaii Traffic Housing and Jobs

Every morning commuters travel from the affordable housing to their jobs, and back home in the evening. The choke point for this traffic is the H-1 and H-2 merge.

Hawaii Traffic Choke Point

There is little room for accidents or breakdowns on Hawaii’s freeways. So a simple flat tire involving a tow track can slow traffic significantly. Since that car takes up an open lane, all the cars have to merge over to get around the stuck vehicle.

Is it always bad?

Here’s the good news. Traffic in Hawaii is packed during the morning and evening commutes, but is very clear the rest of the time.

So if you live in Ewa Beach and need to pick up a friend from the airport at 9Am, you will have an easy drive. Likewise, driving on the weekend is fast and convenient to most parts of the island.

The bad traffic is mostly confined to H-1 and the portion of H-2 flowing into H-1.

Choosing a Home Based on Traffic

You only need to be concerned about the traffic if you’re considering living in the following areas:

Ewa Beach, Kapolei, Mililani, or Waikiki

AND you’re commuting to Hickam AFB, Pearl Harbor, Camp Smith, Fort Shafter, or Tripler Medical Center.

If you’re stationed at Schofield Barracks or MCB Kaneohe, you’re lucky. Schofield has some great housing near by (Mililani), that is very close to base. MCB Kaneohe has expensive housing nearby, but we’ll save that for another article – this is about traffic, and I don’t think folks at MCB Kaneohe are stuck in traffic very often.

Morning Commute from Ewa Beach or Kapolei

This commute is known as the worst on the island. It’s bittersweet because this is where all the beautiful, affordable homes are! It’s a tough drive. Whether it is worth it is up to you.

If you want to beat the traffic for this commute you have to get up early! The traffic pattern works like this:

  • Before 5:30AM you can drive anywhere on the island with minimal slowdown
  • At 5:30AM traffic starts to slow on H-1E near exit 7 by Waikele, adding about 10 minutes to your commute
  • By 6:00AM the traffic slows down by Ewa Beach, adding 20 minutes to your commute
  • Between 6:00AM and 7:30AM the traffic adds at least 25 minutes to your commute
For example, my commute from Kapolei to Camp Smith takes 25 minutes with no traffic. But as you can see, traveling at different times in the morning makes my commute from 25 minutes to an hour. By leaving very early my commute is normally 30 minutes.

Commute from Mililani to Hickam/Pearl Harbor

This commute is slightly better than coming from Ewa Beach. The merge onto H-1 will slow you down, adding 20 or more minutes to your commute time between 6-7:30AM.

Commute from Kaneohe to Hickam/Pearl Harbor

Due to the construction of the H-3 freeway, the commute from Kaneohe or Kailua to the other side of the island is a breeze.

You can expect this drive to take around 35 minutes. It’s a better drive than Ewa Beach because there is rarely any traffic. The only traffic I’ve ever heard of is the tunnel getting blocked due to an accident. Besides that, it’s smooth sailing.

Oh, and the scenery along this raised freeway is amazing!

H3 Hawaii

Traffic Near Waikiki

There is no easy way to get in and out of Waikiki, so expect it to take an hour to get there from most locations on the island. But there are no military bases in this area, so going to Waikiki is more of a splurge.

If you live at the Hale Koa while house hunting this may impact you. But come on, you’re at the Hale Koa! There’s not much to complain about.

How to Decrease your Commute Time

Hawaii has a “zip lane” that is open in the morning from 5-8:30AM. They allow cars with 3 or more passengers, motorcycles, and buses. A giant truck moves blocks into the west-bound lane, taking one of the lanes to make H-1E wider.

For most military it’s not that useful because it’s tricky to organize three people to leave and come home at the same time every day. But if you drive a motorcycle it’s a slick way to bypass the traffic and get to Hickam or Pearl Harbor or the other bases in that area.

If you can organize a few folks, DoD has a great program that gives you a free van with gas to use as a commute car.

Useful Links

Hawaii Traffic Cameras – Best one to view is H-1/H-2 merge

Final Note: Speeding on O’ahu

I got a speeding ticket during my first week on the island. The top speed limit on the island is 65mph. But most areas on H-1 are 55.

The police like to hide on curves or on the incline of a hill. They park their motorcycle and stand near it with a radar gun. The first time you see this you will think a motorcyclist is pulled over on the road! The police are out checking for speeders often.

The police seem unforgiving and wrote me a ticket for the exact speed I was over. In addition, I forgot to put my insurance card in my glove compartment after I picked it up from the shipping company. So I got a ticket for that as well!

Friendliest Drivers in the US?

You may find crowded traffic in Hawaii, but what you won’t find is rude drivers or hostility. You rarely hear a car horn on the island. I used it once when the driver in front of me failed to move at a green light. Everybody looked at me like I was an asshole!

Hawaiians are friendly when dealing with merging traffic, and usually take turns letting people in rather than blocking cars in a merging lane. You’ll often see the “shaka” sign when you let someone in your lane, as a thank you.

[ois skin=”Hawaii Optin”]

 

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob August 1, 2012 at 5:20 am

I have a question. Im moving there. My fiancee is a soldier at Schofield. Ill be working at Shafter. Do you have any recommendations on where wold be best to live for both commutes? She works normal hours and Ill work 11-7pm. She wants to live in Waikiki. Id rather be North Shore. Any thoughts or additional info would be really helpful.

And thanks for this page. Its been probably the most useful info Ive seen yet.

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Casey August 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Thanks for the compliment! Overall I think you need to find something in the middle that will make you both happy.

A drive from Fort Shafter to Waikiki is doable, but from Schofield is pretty bad. There’s just no easy way to get into Waikiki. So if you drive 30 minutes just to get to one of the exits near Honolulu, then spend another 15-30 minutes trying to get to Waikiki, you might go crazy. Similarly, driving from Fort Shafter to the North Shore, say Haleiwa, is a long drive that would take a little over 45 minutes each way.

If I were in your shoes I would rank my locations like this:

1. On Base at Fort Shafter
Your wife has the tougher commute with Fort Shafter being right off of H-1. So this allows her to get home quick. Meanwhile, you have a “reverse commute” in that your drive to Schofield would be against the flow of traffic making it quick and painless. Since you are mil-to-mil, the big con here is that you lose your double BAH. However, remember that Hawaii electricity and water costs are high, so even double BAH can be used up fairly quickly.

2. Mililani/ Waikele / Waipio
There are a lot of nice houses in these three areas. This is more of a middle ground between you two, as the commute from Fort Shafter would not be bad. Your commute would be really good. Not sure if you have kids, but the schools in Mililani have a great reputation.

3. Ewa Beach/Kapolei
You get the nicest home for your money in these two areas. The commute for your wife will be fairly though. Your commute would be pretty good.

Bottom line: I would try to stay as close as you can to Fort Shafter to ease your wife’s commute, because your commute is going to be very easy from that area. Hopefully this helps a bit. I would start checking AHRN to see what’s available in these different areas, and maybe call the housing office at Fort Shafter if you’re interested in that option.

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Kristen August 29, 2012 at 4:29 am

Hello! I am looking for a recommendation on where to live for my husband and I. I am going to be stationed on Pearl Harbor and he is stationed on MCB Kaneohe.

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Casey August 29, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Hi Kristen,

I asked five people at my work about this question and we all came up with the same result (starting with the best option and going down):

1. Kaneohe: This is a 25-30 minute drive from Pearl Harbor. You have a very short portion on H-1. The rest of your drive on H-3 is smooth and predictable. This is considered the nicer part of the island. Quoting two of my coworkers: “everybody likes Kaneohe and Kailua.”

It’s much cooler than the west side and you rarely need air conditioning. The beaches are amazing… some of the best kayaking you can find. The houses are somewhat expensive, and you won’t find many newer homes like you find on the west side. But Kaneohe is probably the best option for both of you. As a bonus, you can go to MCB Kaneohe on the weekend to use the gym, pool, or commissary.

2. Kailua: This is similar to Kaneohe but will add about 5-10 minutes on to your drive from Pearl Harbor as compared to Kaneohe. Kailua is even nicer than Kaneohe but is a bit more expensive. When I referred to the nice beaches near Kaneohe, much of those beaches are near Kailua. This is a very nice beach town. I tried to find a home here but couldn’t find one I liked within my price range.

3: Towards Waikiki (Monoa, Pacific Heights, Diamond Head): If you don’t have kids and want to go out to nice restaurants or bars a lot, then this is an option. Traffic will be trickier for both of you, especially going home as H-1 slows down in the afternoon as you approach Waikiki (around exit 19).

4. On Base at either MCB Kaneohe, McGrew Point, or Ford Island: Navy base housing in Hawaii is overall very nice. But since you have dual BAH you might as well live off base. If you live on base you’ll get some convenience, but will lose out on the benefit of maxing your BAH to get a nice home near the beach… or making some extra money.

A lot of your options are based on timing and what’s available in AHRN during the time you are looking. You may find the perfect house in Kaneohe, or it may feel like there’s nothing good. Don’t be in a rush as you will get TLA for a short time which helps pay for hotel and per diem while looking for a house (I’m writing an article on that shortly!).

Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!

Casey

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Kristen September 6, 2012 at 6:56 am

Awesome information Casey! Thank you so much, that helps out A LOT!

Mark September 19, 2012 at 7:18 am

Casey…Thanks for taking time to answer questions. Your insight is very helpful. Anticipating a Summer 2013 arrival to Tripler AMC. I have kids in high school, middle school, and elementary. My first priority is to determine a school district that has good performance across the entire spectrum and secondly a minimal commute. It appears that Mililani could be a good fit, but how are the schools in Kaneohe and Kailua. Thanks.

Mark

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casey September 23, 2012 at 8:34 am

Hello,
You’re welcome and thanks for visiting the web site. I spoke to some coworkers and they think Mililani is a good choice, like you mention.

If you check Great Schools (http://www.greatschools.org/search/search.page?search_type=0&q=mililani&state=HI&c=school) you can see that Mililani has good schools across the board (elementary, middle, high school). My coworker lives in Kaneohe and has both of his kids in elementary there. He researched and found that the elementary schools are great, but Kaneohe schools are not so great when they move to middle and high school. Due to that, he’s going to put his kids in private school after elementary. He mentioned that Kailua’s middle and high schools are known to be better due to the proximity of MCBH Kaneohe. But not a LOT better. He thinks the parents on the base are more involved which makes the schools in Kailua a bit better.

Another option you may want to look at is Moanalua Schools which are in Salt Lake, across the freeway from Tripler. They are known to be very good. Your drive would be much shorter if you live around that area.

That’s one thing you will find on the island – private schools are popular and prevalent. But they are expensive and I imagine affording it for the range of kids you have is tough. So that’s why my overall recommendation is to look at Mililani. The drive from Tripler is not too bad. I would not look at Ewa Beach or Kapolei from Tripler. That’s just too much for me.

One resource you should look into is the Hickam/Pearl Harbor school liaison: http://www.cnic.navy.mil/PearlHarbor-Hickam/FleetAndFamilyReadiness/SupportServices/Families/ChildandYouthPrograms/SchoolLiaison/index.htm. I would send your question to them as well.

Admittedly, I do not know how your base housing would work and what schools your kids your kids would attend if on base. You will have to look into that with someone else. But I want to be up front that it was not part of my consideration!

Thanks,
Casey

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Melody September 27, 2012 at 3:54 am

I just found this and I wanted to thank you for the great info! I will be PCSing with my husband in about a month and just got a job offer in Honolulu as a teacher.. How terrible would the commute be coming from Ewa beach or Waipahu? When I google mapped it, it says 24 minutes… Plus traffic I’m guessing an hour. But my prospective employer mentioned my commute could be an hour and a half!? So I have to think about it… Any input would be great!

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Casey September 27, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Hi Melody,

Thank for the compliment. Your potential employer is right and was
probably giving you the worst case scenario. I just checked Google
Maps and in current traffic at 7:30AM, from Ewa Beach to Honolulu,
your commute would be 1 hour and 6 minutes. Due to the time difference at your current location, you were probably seeing traffic later in the day. After 9AM, traffic clears up quite a bit all over the island, then gets bad again around 3PM.

I would go to Google Maps again and change the traffic to a certain
day and time, such as this: http://goo.gl/maps/wiXc4, which shows
traffic on a Tuesday at 7AM. You can see where the choke points are, and can adjust the time to see traffic during different parts of the day.

Living in Waipahu would save you about 10 minutes vs Ewa Beach.

My personal reccomendation is to look hard at other jobs closer to
where you want to live, or consider living closer to Honolulu. I know
where you are coming from by wanting to live in Ewa Beach. My wife and I like having a nice home for our kids, and want them to have some room outside to play. It’s very hard to find that environment near Honolulu.

Where will your husband be stationed? Have you thought about living on base? That’s a good way to get closer to Honolulu. Housing on Hickam or Pearl Harbor is much closer to Honolulu than Ewa Beach.

Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions!

Casey

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Derek March 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Our family is PCSing to Hawaii in September. I will be working at NCTAMS PAC in Wahiawa. We will likely live in Navy housing on Ford Island. What kind of commute would I be looking at?

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Casey March 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Hi Derek,

The commute from Ford Island to NCTAMS is not bad, since you’re going opposite of the traffic. The main traffic flow is from Mililani towards Honolulu. But you will be driving the opposite way and should not hit any traffic at all. The drive is a bit far, and will likely take around 30 minutes.

Ford Island has some of the best housing I’ve seen on island, so I think it’s a great choice. Plus, you save a lot of money by not paying water and electricity.

Casey

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Constance March 25, 2013 at 5:20 am

Hello! I find this site to be very helpful. My husband and I are dual military and will be PCSing this summer with a report date of 10 JUly. He will be assigned to Fort Shafter and I will be assigned to Schofield. We are hoping that we can get housing on either AMR or Shafter. Could you please provide me any info on how the drive from Mililan to Fort Shafter would be. He will more than likely have to be at work by 0800 or 0900. Thanks!

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Constance March 25, 2013 at 5:21 am

I forgot to include that we have two kids, ages 5 and 12.

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Casey April 25, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Hello Constance,

Sorry for the slow reply to this one. A commute from Mililani to Fort Shafter is not great, but it’s not terrible. Traffic slows when merging onto H-1, while driving between 6-7:30AM. This slow down will probably add 10-15 minutes to a drive that normally takes 20 minutes.

The evening commute home will probably be harder than the morning commute. I checked traffic right now, and Google Maps says that drive would take 35 minutes.

Overall I like Mililani a lot. That was our first choice but we couldn’t find any nice homes in our price range. We heard the schools are very good. So that would be great for your kids. Good luck!

Casey

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Constance April 26, 2013 at 3:11 am

Thank you, Casey! I appericate your feedback.

Wehye June 21, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Hi
My wife and I are dual military PCSing to Hawaii. I will be working on EWA beach and she will be in pearl harbor on a ship. We were looking to stay off base and rent or buy but we both don’t want to be stuck in traffic forever everyday. where would you say is a good medium place to check out?

Reply

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