Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Summit will seek
to unlock gridlock

A tax hike will be part of the
discussion on traffic solutions

A push to raise taxes to fund a rail system on Oahu and other solutions to traffic problems will be discussed by city, state and community leaders when they gather for a transportation summit on Feb. 28.

Transportation summit

To register for the conference, send registration form or your name, your organization's name, address, phone number, fax number and e-mail address via:

» fax to 523-4220.
» e-mail to dyoung4@honolulu.gov
» mail to Councilman Nestor Garcia, 530 S. King St., Room 202, Honolulu, HI 96813.

"The status quo is not something that we can tolerate even in the near future," said Councilman Nestor Garcia, chairman of the Planning and Transportation Committee. "We need to move ahead with a solution."

Organizers hope the conference, "Transportation Summit: Is There Hope On The Horizon For The Counties Or Are We Just Stuck in Gridlock?" will trigger discussion on all possible traffic solutions and help politicians gauge public support for rail and other options.

Garcia said the summit also comes during a timely period, as:

» Congress decides transportation projects to fund for the next six years.
» Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization updates its regional transportation plan for Oahu for the next 25 years.
» And the Legislature decides whether to allow the counties to impose up to a 1 percent excise tax increase to pay for traffic solutions. For Oahu, a 1-percent increase could raise $300 million annually. That money could be matched to any federal funding that Hawaii receives.

Garcia said the summit may offer an opportunity for the city -- especially the City Council -- to show skeptics that Honolulu is serious about addressing gridlock.

"It's just one way to show that our side of the street, that we're taking this seriously," Garcia said.

In a 1992 vote, the City Council rejected a tax increase needed to secure federal funding for a rail system.

Garcia said while rail will be the "900-pound gorilla in the room ... rail is the thing that gets people to talk about traffic solutions, forces you to think about how those things tie in."

Those "things" include an intra-island commuter ferry service, which the mayor is anxious to implement, a Waikiki "people mover" transit system, streetcars, new tunnels and bridges, and improved bikeways, walkways and roads.

Even if the counties are given the authority to impose a higher excise tax, the planning for a rail system on Oahu is still in the early stages.

"There's still a lot more work -- from alignment to how you would operate it. This is just the beginning of a very long road," Garcia said.

The discussions will also look at what traffic projects the three neighbor island counties might want to fund using revenue from a potential general excise tax increase.

The summit is being sponsored by Garcia's committee, the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the pro-rail Committee for Balanced Transportation, and will be held at Mission Memorial Auditorium on the grounds of City Hall from 8 a.m. to noon Feb. 28.

E-mail to City Desk


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