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Thursday, August 11, 2005



TRANSIT TAX VOTE




art
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tempers flared outside of the Kapolei Hale hearing room yesterday where Bill 40 was being voted on. Keren Paris, left, wanted rail, and the other woman felt it would not work.




Transit project
to raise taxes

The Council vote clears the way
for a 12.5 percent hike in
the excise tax in 2007

Mayor Mufi Hannemann said it is time to get rolling on plans for mass transit, most likely a rail system.

COMING UP

Week of Aug. 22

Mayor Mufi Hannemann will sign the bill passed by the City Council to tack a surcharge of half a percentage point on the 4 percent general excise tax on Oahu. His administration will then award the contract for a consultant's alternatives analysis and draft environmental impact statement to determine the preferred transportation alternative. Public hearings will be held to get community input.

By end of 2006

Estimated completion of the alternatives analysis. City Council would need to approve a locally preferred transportation alternative.

Jan. 1, 2007

New tax is levied on Oahu.

2009

Earliest construction would to begin on rail transit, if that is the selected system.

2012

Earliest the first phase of rail would be completed.



Various traffic solutions

Intraisland commuter ferry: A ferry between Kalaeloa and Honolulu Harbor. City buses would take passengers to the docks and pick them up on the other end. Cost: $6.7 million.
Ford Island Causeway: Travel from Ewa along an improved Iroquois Road and then across Pearl Harbor on a new bridge to Waipio Peninsula and then a second new bridge to Ford Island before heading onto the current bridge to Kamehameha Highway.
Nimitz Flyover: A reversible, slender, two-lane, elevated viaduct above Nimitz Highway. Cost: about $250 million.
High-Occupancy Toll Lanes: Dedicated lanes from Waikele to Pier 16 that would be free for high-occupancy vehicles such as buses. Other vehicles would be charged a fluctuating toll to manage traffic flow -- peak drive times could see a higher toll than nonpeak hours. Cost: about $1 billion.

Hannemann said he is ready to move ahead with planning for a rail system or other mass transit. He made the comments after yesterday's 7-2 vote by the City Council to increase the general excise tax to pay for the city's share of the project.

"We are ready to rock 'n' roll," he said.

The mayor said the "courageous vote" has gone a long way toward changing the city's reputation after the failed attempt in 1992 by the City Council to raise taxes to pay for rail. "We have now dispelled that image that we weren't willing to be courageous. We weren't willing to fumble the ball like they did 13 years ago," Hannemann said.

Bill 40 imposes a county surcharge of half a percentage point on top of the 4 percent general excise tax charged by the state. If signed by Hannemann, the tax on Oahu would be 4.5 percent on Jan. 1, 2007.

Voting in favor of the bill were Todd Apo, Romy Cachola, Donovan Dela Cruz, Nestor Garcia, Ann Kobayashi, Gary Okino and Rod Tam. The two against the bill were Charles Djou and Barbara Marshall.

Hannemann said he will sign the bill into law and then select a contractor to begin the study to determine the preferred transportation solution through an alternatives analysis and a draft environmental impact statement, which could take 18 months to complete.

Opponents and supporters of Bill 40 packed the meeting room in the City Hall extension at Kapolei, where Hannemann hopes a rail system will begin. Signs saying "No New Taxes" were next to others that read "Transit Now" and "I Will Ride."

Opponents said extra taxes will be a burden on residents and businesses. They also said the Council should not pass a tax increase without a plan of what a system will look like and cost.

But supporters said the tax increase is needed to ease traffic congestion in places like Kapolei.

"This is a momentous day. Your passage of Bill 40 will be a major step forward toward improving Honolulu's transportation system," said former Councilwoman Darrlyn Bunda, who lives in Mililani but works in Waipahu.

Karl Rhoads, who lives downtown, said that while opponents are focusing on the amount of additional taxes citizens will pay, new transit commuters will actually save money because they will not have to pay for parking, gas and other expenses associated with their cars.

"I know it's counterintuitive that a tax increase will save you money, but in this case it's true," Rhoads said.

But opponents used creative ways to voice their displeasure at the tax increase.

Jim York played a recording of train sounds and told the Council to imagine those sounds in some of the narrow corridors of Oahu. "Kona Street behind Ala Moana Center, which is condominiums on one side and the center on the other, and it's a big auditorium," he said as a train horn blew from the recording.

Cliff Slater, who led the opposition that killed rail in 1992, brought out an enlargement of an architect's rendering of the large elevated concrete supports for the rail line that was proposed in the early 1990s.

"I wanted to let you know what we're ... in for," Slater said.

The intensity of the debate spilled outside the standing-room-only meeting with a couple of verbal skirmishes between those for and against.

Okino said the Council approval of Bill 40 is a major step. "I think (the vote) sets a good momentum, but I think there's still going to be stumbling blocks along the way."

Djou said he hopes that other ideas get into the mix, including high-occupancy toll lanes and a toll bridge to Ford Island. But he said he is also a realist.

"I have a great fear that there's a railroad job going on here -- pun intended. There is a clear bias for a rail system," Djou said.

Hannemann and U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said yesterday's vote has already set into motion other ways of financing rail. Abercrombie said private investors are interested, so there could be combinations of investor funds, bond sale proceeds and federal funds to finance the system.

"Part of the beauty of the transit system is that you have opportunities to grow economically around transit stations," Hannemann said.

Even though he supports rail as the centerpiece of a transit system, Hannemann said he is sensitive to the fact that there are people who oppose it.

"I recognize there are some in the community that may not favor this proposal, and that's OK," he said. "The ball's in our court, and I intend to dribble it up the court, take a shot and dunk it. The mandate is there."


Star-Bulletin reporter B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.



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