Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Advocates seek study
into undersea tunnel

A House bill would allocate
$200,000 for a feasibility study

A tunnel connecting Ewa to Sand Island would take as many as 9,000 cars off the H-1 freeway every hour and cut commute times from Ewa to the airport to 10 minutes, supporters of the project told lawmakers yesterday.

Advocates are asking the Legislature for $200,000 to study the feasibility of building a 3,000-foot-long tunnel beneath Pearl Harbor to help ease traffic congestion on Oahu freeways.

Rep. Rida Cabanilla (D, Waipahu-Ewa) introduced the bill, saying traffic was the top priority for people in her district.

"I know the whole island has had that problem, but I think more so with us because we only have one access to town," she said.

Cabanilla said she envisions a tunnel built in partnership with private developers that would have six lanes, including two that could someday be converted for use by a light-rail system.

The cost of the tunnel is estimated at $170 million.

John Emmerson, a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said a tunnel with three lanes going one way and a $2 toll would generate about $26 million a year -- more than enough to offset the building costs after seven years.

The state Department of Transportation submitted testimony saying it supports the intent of the project but is concerned that a tunnel would be too costly.

Officials noted that the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization is currently updating a 25-year transportation plan to set priorities for transit improvements on the island.

The feasibility study was supported by Democrats and Republicans -- 30 House members signed the bill as co-sponsors.

Gov. Linda Lingle said she was pleased that lawmakers were considering all options and making Oahu traffic a top priority.

"I don't think we should rule out anything at this point," Lingle said. "I don't think it can be any one thing; it's going to have to be a combination of things. So I'm glad there seems to be agreement that this is major issue facing the entire state."

In other legislative action yesterday, Senate lawmakers tabled a bill that would have provided consumers with one day of tax-free shopping each year.

Opponents of the measure included the state Department of Taxation, which said the "tax holiday" would cost the state about $7.7 million in revenue annually.

The Senate Business and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to hold the bill in committee. A similar bill in the House has not been scheduled for a hearing.

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