City Council should not shirk rail decision
City Councilman Charles Djou is proposing that the city delay an excise tax surcharge to pay for construction of Oahu's rail system.
PROPOSALS to connect urban and growth areas of leeward Oahu by a rail system have been debated for more than two decades. As the city finally approaches this monumental commitment, City Councilman Charles Djou is engaged in a desperate attempt to derail a decision that he calls "a quick rush to judgment." The Council should ignore his plea.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann and members of Hawaii's congressional delegation have stressed the importance of ending further delays to gain sizable federal funding, which is needed. That factor looms even larger as the Democrats have gained control of both houses of Congress -- by the narrowest of margins in the Senate.
Sen. Daniel Inouye has been a prominent Senate power broker throughout the years of Republican congressional control. In January, he will become chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and will retain his seat on the Appropriations Committee. Rep. Neil Abercrombie's tenure in the House gives him substantial influence. This is a window of extraordinary opportunity that might close in two years.
An excise tax surcharge to finance the rail system is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1. Djou has introduced a bill that would delay its implementation so the Council can make "a careful review of the rail options."
The option being presented at the last minute as cheaper and effective is a reversible tollway similar to a 10-mile stretch opened this year between downtown Tampa and suburban area. That tollway is open only during rush hour and, it turns out, is used by a tiny percentage of commuters; a toll increase already is scheduled for next year to help pay for the cost of construction.
Honolulu's City Council certainly should not restrict itself from taking a final look at that and other alternatives before making such a momentous decision. The current Council has been studying alternatives for months, visiting other cities where transit systems are in operation. For Djou to suggest that a decision at this time would be rash is fatuous.
The Council must make a commitment and decide upon a route. Inouye's office recently stressed to the city that failure to do so will keep the city from requesting permission from the Federal Transportation Administration to enter into preliminary engineering and qualify for an initial $4 million in federal assistance and "to keep the momentum of this project moving forward."
The project undoubtedly will be costly, many times the amount it would have cost if it had been approved by the City Council during the Fasi administration but probably a fraction of what it will cost if delayed further. It is time for the Council to get off the dime and prepare for the future.
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