Council should take time to get transit plan right
The City Council is poised to vote on an expensive mass transportation system.
A VOTE by the City Council Friday will dramatically alter the island's future. Its decision on a transit system will influence Honolulu's business and economic prospects, commercial and residential development, its landscape, ambiance and its financial well-being.
With stakes so high, Council members have a substantial obligation to make sure they are steering the right course and are doing so in an orderly manner.
So far, the Council's execution of its duties, as demonstrated by the five-member transportation committee, has been less than assuring. The Council should set aside the false deadline it and the city administration imposed for its decision, and take the necessary time to review the proposals with care and in detail.
The Council and Mayor Mufi Hannemann aimed to adopt a plan by year's end because the excise tax surcharge to pay for a transit system will kick in next month and neither wanted to bear criticism about the tax being levied without a plan in place.
The public would likely grant them some leeway if the result is a solid blueprint that will succeed in easing some of Oahu's traffic problems.
This is not to say that the process should drag on, but it is evident that there are issues that need further examination.
For example, a related bill that would have imposed a moratorium on development along a transit route stunned landowners and developers last week. The Council was correct in attempting to prevent land speculation, but the ham-handed proposal also could have halted projects already in the works and stalled the construction industry.
Clearly, the measure needed fine tuning, but in the headlong rush to put controls in place, the Council miscalculated its effects.
During a marathon meeting Thursday, the Council committee approved the longer of two routes for a transit system and changed the bill's text to read "fixed guideway" instead of "rail" to accommodate a last-minute proposal from Council member Ann Kobayashi. Kobayashi threw into the complicated mix an idea to run magnetic buses along a guideway, a transit method that might not serve the city's needs.
Kobayashi and her allies also imposed an ill-advised route change that would not directly serve communities and commercial developments that are expected to become major population centers.
Another hitch that emerged at the meeting was the Council's insistence that it get to pick the kind of transit technology to be used, which the administration contends is its jurisdiction and which could snarl the procurement process.
When the full Council counts votes on the issue, considerations colored by individual political aspirations as well as an internal struggle for power will be underlying members' decisions. It might be asking too much of hardened politicians to set those issues aside, but if nothing else, they should recognize that what they do will have incomparable, lasting repercussions for Honolulu.