Transit plan should include Salt Lake segment
NOW that the City Council has selected a locally preferred alternative for Honolulu's mass transit system, the next step is determining the minimum operable segment. First and foremost, it would be fiscally prudent that the MOS be kept affordable. But where do we start?
After thoroughly reading the Alternatives Analysis report and other pertinent information, I hope that the Hannemann administration will include Salt Lake Boulevard as part of the MOS. My vision is that the MOS extend from Drum Road near Leeward Community College to the University of Hawaii-Manoa via Salt Lake Boulevard, Dillingham Boulevard and Halekauwila Street. The length of this MOS is less than 20 miles and estimated to cost $3.4 billion.
My reasoning is as follows:
» The approximately $3.4 billion amount for this MOS is within the limits set by Bill 79 (2006) CD1 FD2, which requires that the project be affordable and that no property taxes or bonds be used to pay for the MOS.
» The MOS connects three UH campuses -- Leeward and Honolulu community colleges and UH-Manoa -- and provides a reliable and affordable transportation alternative for our future leaders. A connection to the future UH-West Oahu campus could be made in future phases.
» The tens of thousands of college students as well as residents living along the transit corridor currently comprise a solid ridership base, which is key to making the MOS work and generating public support for the project.
» The Salt Lake Boulevard alignment extends through the Mapunapuna industrial/commercial area, where there are numerous transit-oriented development opportunities. Here are possible sites for TOD along this alignment:
» Stadium Mall.
» Kmart across from Stadium Mall.
» Salt Lake Shopping Center, particularly if the proposed transit station at Ala Nioi Street is moved to the corner of Salt Lake Boulevard and Ala Lilikoi Street.
» Manpunapuna industrial/ commercial area, which was not included in the alternatives analysis report for the Salt Lake Boulevard alignment.
IN FURTHER analyzing this MOS, I found that it takes three criteria for an ideal alignment:
» Maximum ridership potential.
» Maximum TOD potential.
The Salt Lake Boulevard alignment meets all three criteria. Please also consider the following additional reasons for alignment to run along Salt Lake Boulevard:
» Service residents first
We are indebted to taking care of our residents first. Oahu's residents -- who live, work and play here 365 days a year -- will be paying the lion's share of the half-percentage-point increase in the GET.
Since it is shorter and straighter, the Salt Lake Boulevard alignment is estimated to cost $110 million less than the airport alignment. Even if a third transit station were to be built in the Mapunapuna commercial/industrial area, it would still be less costly than the airport alignment.
» Established ridership
Between 70,000 and 80,000 residents live along a 4-mile stretch of Salt Lake Boulevard, which includes the communities of Salt Lake, Aliamanu, Foster Village and Lower Halawa-Stadium. Approximately 50,000 alone live in the Salt Lake area. These numbers represent an established ridership base.
In comparison, ridership, population and other key factors for the airport alignment are based on year 2030 projections as stated in the AA report. Also, there are four planned transit stations for the airport alignment, compared to two for Salt Lake Boulevard, which unfairly boosts population and employment distribution projections, thus a higher passenger boarding projection.
» Higher fare-box revenues
Unlike the airport alignment, if the Salt Lake Boulevard alignment is chosen, the city can immediately realize the benefits of a solid ridership base without waiting until the year 2030. With a solid ridership base, there is a better chance to generate higher fare-box revenues. Obviously, the more fare-box revenues are generated, the less taxpayer money is needed to subsidize operation and maintenance costs.
» Approved by neighborhood board
The Salt Lake community is solidly behind the proposed use of Salt Lake Boulevard. After Mayor Mufi Hannemann encouraged Salt Lake residents to speak out on this matter, I received 122 responses to letters sent by my colleague state Sen. Norman Sakamoto. Of that amount, 117 favored the Salt Lake alignment, three preferred the airport, one opposed fixed guideway and one was left blank. If this is not a strong indication of the community's sentiments, then I don't know what is.
If the Salt Lake community is ignored, it will not be the first time. One just has to look at the Salt Lake Boulevard Widening Project, which was promised to be completed in 1983. The city won't begin work on the remaining one mile until the year 2011.
» Airport alignment could be built by the state
Even if Salt Lake Boulevard is chosen, an Airport-Hickam-Pearl Harbor alignment can still be built. However, funding should be provided for by the Federal Aviation Administration and the state, which owns the airport. Pearl Harbor and its visitor center could be funded via defense appropriations. Finding these other sources of revenues would allow the half-percentage-point increase in the general excise tax and Federal Transit Administration funds to be used exclusively for the MOS.
We cannot ignore the many civilian employees who work at the airport, Hickam and Pearl Harbor. However, the Council has yet to see any solid data on the numbers of these employees who utilize public transportation (i.e., TheBus) to and from work.
I MUST commend the mayor for his leadership in this contentious mass transit debate. The Council also is to be thanked for reaching out to the community and gathering public input.
I am optimistic that the airport alignment can be built concurrently with the Salt Lake Boulevard alignment, if financial assistance from the state and the federal government can be obtained. Doing so will require much negotiation. As the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee chairman, I am more than willing to assist the Hannemann administration in working with all parties involved to keep this project moving forward.
Romy M. Cachola represents District 7 in the Honolulu City Council.