A Drive Through Oahu’s H-3 Freeway

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Although Hawaii’s thousands of miles from the next U.S. state, it’s still somehow proud owner of an interstate freeway.

This version, however, is different from what you might be thinking of. Instead of linking drivers from one state to another, the 16-mile H-3 Freeway connects Oahu cities – from Kaneohe to Halawa. It’s become a popular attraction for tourists since opening more than a decade ago. Think of it like Nevada’s Hoover Dam or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fran. Both are world-renowned for their stunning architecture and rich history.

Both H-3 tunnels lead to breathtaking views of the island.

While the H-3 might not be as notable around the world, it’s the gorgeous panoramic views of the windward side that’s really got people talking. Drivers coming from Kaneohe or Kailua find themselves getting higher and higher up the Koolau mountain range; so hight that it’s not uncommon to be riding in the clouds. The lush green valley below is reminiscent of Old Hawaii – not a single building or home occupies its verdant forests. Above, h3 ridges extend their reach to the highest peaks and bathe in the warm liquid sunshine. My favorite view is just past the greenery of the valley, to the expanse of Kaneohe Bay and beyond.

Drivers get an even more stunning perspective when exiting the tunnel toward Halawa. They find themselves surrounded by different hues of nature – from kukui nut to koa trees and everything in between. Cultural sites and ancient iwi (human remains) are said to be scattered throughout the valley, which is why the freeways’ construction was also controversial. I’ve heard of freaky things happening during the project that forced work to a halt. This and environmental impact studies also contributed to the H-3 taking 37 years to build.

A passing view of the Koolau mountains.

Haunted stories and dramas aside, the $1.3 billion freeway is obviously here to stay. Currently, it’s the largest public works project in Hawaii’s history…until the rail, that is, another heated topic in the islands. The History Channel’s Modern Marvels showcased the H-3 as one of the world’s “superhighways.” It’s not only super for its amazing views but for its technologically-advanced tunnels. Both tunnels have 16 supply fans and 16 exhaust fans that provide 250 horsepower each and keep them well-ventilated in case of a fire.

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to visit the control center above the tunnels. Most people probably aren’t aware that it exists or that there are people working up there, around the clock. How cool would it be if your office was the Koolau mountains?

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