CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Theresia McMurdo of the West Oahu Economic Development Association shared a laugh yesterday as he presented her with a keepsake version of Bill 79.
Mayor signs city transit bill
The mayor says a ferry from Kapolei should be ready by April to provide some traffic relief
Mayor Mufi Hannemann signed a bill yesterday that authorizes the city to pursue a multibillion-dollar mass transit system aimed at easing traffic by linking West Oahu to downtown Honolulu.
But commuters aren't expected to feel any relief until at least 2012, when the first segment of a fixed guideway system that will eventually run from Kapolei to Manoa is set to debut.
Where that first segment will run is still to be determined.
Hannemann, who signed Bill 79 in a ceremony at Kapolei Hale before dozens of transit supporters, wants to break ground as far west as possible.
"I just feel that if we try to do this somewhere in the urban, downtown area, we are going to run into all types of concerns. The city could be taken to court or face other types of resistance from landowners and others who oppose it," the mayor said. "And I know that coming from the west side, we are not gonna have those kinds of issues."
In the meantime, the mayor said more immediate traffic relief could come by sea. A ferry system from Kapolei to downtown should be ready by April, Hannemann said yesterday.
The ferry would include at least two boats with capacity for 150 people each. They would depart from Kalaeloa and unload at Pier 9 near Aloha Tower, said Melvin Kaku, director of the city's Department of Transportation Services.
Maeda Timson, chairwoman of the Kapolei Neighborhood Board who attended the signing ceremony, said she was going to drink with friends to celebrate "a historic day."
Although Timson's First Hawaiian Bank office is only about 25 miles from her Makakilo home, her drive to work sometimes is as long as two hours.
"You leave your house when the sun is down and you come home and the sun is still down, then you wonder if the sun showed at all in Kapolei while you were gone," said Timson, wearing an "I Will Ride" button.
The transit plan approved by the City Council last month would link Kapolei to the University of Hawaii-Manoa, with a possible spur to Waikiki. The route, which will be at least 28 miles, could cost between $4.6 billion and $5.5 billion.
Oahu residents already started paying for the system with a 0.5 percent increase in the general excise tax. The half-percent tax will raise about $150 million a year to cover initial costs, Hannemann said. Meanwhile, federal transportation funds and private donations could pay for preliminary engineering work and an Environmental Impact Statement, which should take at least 18 months, the mayor said.
In addition to figuring out where the first route will run, Hannemann must also decide between serving the airport or the condo-heavy Salt Lake area, and whether the route will go to the Ewa plain through the planned North-South Road or take a less-expensive route along Farrington Highway that bypasses Ewa.
While Hannemann hasn't made up his mind, he hinted that ridership prospects and the availability of private donations and money from other federal agencies could influence which route he picks. For example, he said a route passing through Pearl Harbor and the airport could lead to state and military contributions.
Regardless of which route is chosen, the goal is to have the first six to 10 miles of the transit system functioning by 2012, Hannemann said.