Historic vote on transit did not inspire confidence
The City Council has approved a system to run from Kapolei to the University of Hawaii-Manoa.
THE City Council's vote to commit Honolulu to build a billion-dollar fixed guideway transit system
came in a confusion of route amendments that were proposed, withdrawn, then amended again.
The Council's decision-making by fits and starts hardly inspires the public's confidence, but in the end, members were able to satisfy their political agendas and begin taking steps toward providing some relief for the city's traffic problems.
The vote sets the city on a course that will profoundly change its future. A transit system will affect Oahu's development, land use, atmosphere, environment and its economy. If successful and managed well, the project will enliven the city. If poorly directed, it could spoil Honolulu.
The cost is most worrisome. The 28-mile line to connect Kapolei to the University of Hawaii-Manoa comes at a price estimated to be between $4.6 billion to $6 billion, and even that amount might not be enough to complete the project as envisioned.
Moreover, for a transit system to work best and capture the largest number of riders, buses that feed its vehicles, parking areas for passengers, pedestrian walkways and other adjuncts will be needed.
The two members who voted against the bill -- Charles Djou and Barbara Marshall -- said they could not obligate taxpayers to pay for something without knowing how the project will play out. But Todd Apo, who represents the Kapolei-Ewa area that would see a rush of development to accompany the system, argued that seeking answers to every conceivable question would paralyze the city.
Friday's action took place against a backdrop of maneuvering for the Council's leadership, with a faction aligned with Mayor Mufi Hannemann scuffling with another led by Ann Kobayashi, who supports Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz.
It was Kobayashi's proposal of an 11th-hour amendment to the bill already on the floor that sent the Council into a burst of legal wrangling. Because the change required a 48-hour public notice, which Apo and allies refused to waive, the Council first voted to postpone the decision until Tuesday. But behind-the-scenes negotiations resulted in a compromise, allowing the final vote to take place, thus authorizing the administration to move forward.
The on-again, off-again proceedings understandably confounded people who showed up to testify. Those who left in frustration could not be blamed if they feel betrayed.
In the end, Council members walked away from the fray over the routes, punting the choice on the Kapolei leg to the administration, as they had done previously when unable to agree on the airport vs. Salt Lake segment.
The Council's vote did not include a decision on the mode of the transit system -- rail or bus or whatever. That's a fight for another day.