Council panel backs rail as mass-transit solution
Rail should be the city's mass-transit choice, the City Council's Transportation and Planning Committee decided yesterday.
The committee also signaled that the Council will chose one of five fixed-rail routes -- two of them are supported by Mayor Mufi Hannemann -- before the end of the year.
"That is the timeline we are looking at unless something comes up differently," said Councilman Romy Cachola, the committee chairman.
Hannemann has pressed the Council to decide on a mass-transit option and route by Dec. 31, and was pleased with yesterday's outcome.
"We made a lot of progress today," Hannemann said after the meeting. "We're moving."
Hannemann's administration released its transit study earlier this week. The Alternatives Analysis report recommended the city support either a 28-mile route from west Kapolei to the University of Hawaii at Manoa via the airport and Nimitz at a cost of $4.6 billion, or a shorter 20-mile route from east Kapolei to Ala Moana Center at a cost of $3.6 billion. The expense of expanding bus service would add about $600 million to the overall cost of all the routes.
The two routes are among five that the Council will consider over the next two months. The other three are:
» From Kapolei to UH via Salt Lake instead of the airport, at a cost of $4.7 billion.
» From Kapolei to UH and a spur to Waikiki, $5.5 billion.
» From Kapolei to either Kaaahi Street or the intersection of North King and Liliha streets.
The mayor said the administration looked at 140 different combinations of rail alignments before settling on the routes discussed in the report.
The next Council vote on Bill 79 is scheduled for Nov. 15, but Cachola's committee is scheduled to hold a series of community meetings on the legislation beginning Nov. 13 at McKinley High School.
"Everything will be in the open for the community to comment on, not just one alignment," Cachola said.
But Councilwoman Barbara Marshall said she disagreed with selecting rail before seeking comment from the public.
"For me to fill in those blanks at this point in time is a slap in the face of the public. It says it doesn't make any difference what you come and tell us, because we've already decided that we're going to do rail," Marshall said. But other committee members disagreed.
"Basically, we should have something concrete for the public to understand what they're going to testify on," Councilman Rod Tam said.
The committee also killed a proposed amendment that would have required that the Council adopt transit land-use laws before deciding on a transit alternative.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie told the committee that voting before the end of the year would keep federal funding in the pipeline.
"Our ability to obtain federal funding is completely dependent on decisive City Council action," Abercrombie said.
Abercrombie was among those who testified in favor of the 28-mile route. Support also came from West Oahu businesses and residents and the UH-Manoa chancellor.
The vote did not come as a shock to those who favored the elevated reversible high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes also studied.
"Nothing surprises me about politics," said Cliff Slater. "They are working from a real lack of information and a lot of misinformation. For example, the ridership is grossly exaggerated, and the costs on the HOT lanes are just ridiculous."