Sunday, August 14, 2005


Transit project a great
opportunity to transform city


The City Council has approved an excise tax surcharge to fund a transit system for Honolulu.

AFTER months of debate and a few stutter steps, the City Council has approved the tax increase that will raise money for a Honolulu transit system, and Mayor Hannemann has his pen ready to sign the funding measure.

Now comes the hard part.

Myriad issues must be worked out before commuters will be able to ride rather than drive from one place to another on Oahu. These include choosing the best mode or modes of transportation, obtaining financial aid from the federal government, designing routes and accompanying plans for development along the transit corridor and laying out strategies to assure security in the post-9/11 age.

Throughout this planning process, it is essential that the public take part.

The project will undoubtedly bring significant changes to the city. It could become the foundation for economic growth and establish new patterns for residential and commercial development on the island. Or it could be restricted by provincial sentiment and by narrow self-interests with the means to drown out the desires of the wider community.

Though rail lines will likely be the core of the transit plan, taxpayers should propose their ideas and decision-makers should not turn away suggestions without consideration.

The mayor favors rail, but has said he won't reject other proposals. Hannemann and city officials know that to reduce highway traffic and to make public transportation attractive, speed and convenience will be vital.

The fight over the tax increase was just the initial hurdle. By the end of next year, the city expects to complete an assessment of a range of transportation options and select a local preference as law requires. In addition, the city must set up a collection process for the tax before it is imposed in 2007.

Officials anticipate revenues estimated at $150 million a year and the system to cost about $2.6 billion. Tax opponents contend that revenues will not meet expenses and that more increases will be needed in years to come. However, some municipalities have gained funds by setting up economic zones along transit lines that could prove lucrative for businesses while raising money for the city. Others have made deals with private enterprise to "adopt" train stations and surrounding property to provide maintenance and other services the city would ordinarily have to pay for.

Naysayers may regard the transit project as a boondoggle, a gamble by a government often viewed -- with some justification -- as inept. There's really no way to predict an outcome, but if Honolulu does not embrace the project as a great opportunity to steer the island toward long-term livability, if timid, no-can-do attitudes prevail, the quality of life in paradise will continue to deteriorate.

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