Council should keep open mind about transit
A City Council committee has endorsed a rail system as the method of mass transit on Oahu.
THE City Council is poised to choose an expensive and ambitious rail system
for dealing with transportation challenges on leeward Oahu. Public hearings beginning this month will focus on five alternative routes to be decided upon, but the hearings should not be confined to that issue.
The Council's Transportation and Planning Committee, comprised of five of its nine members, made the choice of rail on Thursday and is scheduled to hold a series of community hearings beginning Nov. 13. Before then, three Council members plan to view a 10-mile elevated, reversible tollway recently completed between Tampa, Fla., and its suburbs.
Martin Stone, director of planning for Tampa's expressway authority, and other transportation experts visited Honolulu last month to tell of the tollway's success and recommend it as a model for Honolulu. Stone said the Tampa system's construction cost was $300 million. Martin estimated the cost of a similar system in Honolulu would be $900 million for twice the length, from Waipahu to downtown.
Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas Inc., the consulting firm that conducted a study of transit alternatives for the city, estimated the cost of constructing such a managed lane alternative at $2.6 billion, with financing costs of $1.1 billion, for a total of nearly $3.9 billion. (Unlike rail, such a system would not qualify for excise tax revenues, according to the firm.) That disparity of estimated cost is difficult to understand, or as described by Cliff Slater, an advocate for such a system, is "just ridiculous."
The cost of a rail system from Kapolei to Waikiki and Manoa was projected a year ago at $2.6 billion. That was increased several months later to $3 billion, and since then to $5.5 billion. Explanations are needed about what appear to be estimated costs spiraling into the atmosphere.
Rail has been the thrust of proposals for decades and in the current effort, and it should not be casually cast aside. Congressman Neil Abercrombie emphasized to the Council that action is needed by the end of this year to keep federal funding in the pipeline.
However, questions in upcoming hearings should not be restricted on the assumption that rail is the only system available. Otherwise, the Council trio heading for Tampa would be wasting their time and taxpayers money.
Councilwoman Barbara Marshall says that such a narrow approach to the hearings says to Oahu residents that "it doesn't make any difference what you come and tell us, because we've already decided that we're going to do rail." The consequences of the upcoming decision are too important for it to be railroaded.