Rail plan stirs outcry at first meeting
The public got its first chance to air its views about the city's rail plan last night -- and some made the best of it, blasting the proposal.
Several people who attended the first of several transit meetings held by the city criticized rail mostly because of the billions it is expected to cost.
Their comments came after watching the city's video touting the benefits of a fixed-rail system.
But a few University of Hawaii students asked City Council members to extend the rail route to include UH-Manoa -- a more expensive alternative.
One woman demanded to know how much federal funding would be provided.
"You're squeezing the middle class," she said, adding that large companies that would build the system would benefit.
Others like Caron Wilberts asked, "What's going to happen to property taxpayers? I want assurance property owners won't be paying for this. We can't pay any more."
Mike Abe said he was concerned property owners would be hit with higher taxes not just for the "inestimable costs" of a rail system, but for other city projects.
The meeting at McKinley High School was the first in a series being held this month to allow public input on the city administration's Alternatives Analysis and the City Council's Transportation and Planning Committee's selection of rail as the mass-transit choice.
Transportation Chairman Romy Cachola said all alternatives remain on the table. "It's all in play," he said, including a "no-build" alternative.
Councilman Charles Djou said the "proposed rail project is the largest public works project in the history of the state funded by the largest tax increase."
Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration released its transit study last month. It recommends two rail system alternatives: a $4.6 billion, 28-mile route from west Kapolei to the University of Hawaii at Manoa via the airport and Nimitz Highway; or a $3.6 billion, 20-mile route from east Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.
Expanding the bus service to support any of the routes would cost another $600 million.
The other routes run from Kapolei to UH via Salt Lake ($4.7 billion); from Kapolei to UH and a spur to Waikiki ($5.5 billion); and Kapolei to Kaaahi Street (off Dillingham Boulevard) or the intersection of North King and Liliha streets.
The City Council's Transportation and Planning Committee chairman asked the Transportation Department to provide some visual aids for the next meetings to allow the public to get a better idea of the possible rail routes.
Rail proponent Lan Truong, a UH student, said it takes 10 minutes to get to school by car, but she must rely on the bus, which takes one to two hours. "My life revolves around the bus," she said. She asked that the rail route extend to UH.
Melvin Kaku, Department of Transportation Services director, said the city hopes to get $700 million to $1 billion in federal dollars for construction costs, but that could be even greater.