MASS TRANSIT SYSTEM
UH rail route gaining steam
A decision on a minimal segment is required to get federal funding
Mayor Mufi Hannemann's recommendation that the city build the first segment of the rail line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center could be in trouble as another route is being favored by some councilmembers.
The mayor plans to present a proposed "minimal operating segment" during a joint hearing of the Budget and Transportation committees expected to be scheduled for next week. But the meeting itself is becoming a source of consternation with some councilmembers who question whether the joint hearing is a way to ensure that the mayor's version gets out.
Transportation Committee members Charles Djou and Donovan Dela Cruz said the mayor's recommendation might not have made it out of their committee, which also includes Chairman Nestor Garcia, Ann Kobayashi and Gary Okino.
But a joint hearing would add two more members, Budget Chairman Todd Apo and Rod Tam, who are viewed as more favorable to the mayor's proposal.
"I think it's obvious that Ann Kobayashi, Charles and I are independent, and I think (others) were looking for a rubber stamp, and I think by joining the committees, that's what they are trying to do," Dela Cruz said. "This might be an effort to railroad the MOS down the Council's throat."
Not so, Council leaders said, pointing out that having both committees scrutinize the mayor's proposal is appropriate because there are many unanswered questions, including the route and the system's financial details.
"I want to make sure it was given a hearing that involved as many members as possible, and in that case I thought the Budget Committee was the most logical committee," Garcia said.
Djou favors a different rail transit alignment -- from Leeward Community College in Waipahu to the University of Hawaii at Manoa -- than the mayor's plan and believes he could gain support on the Council for it.
Djou said there are several reasons he believes his proposal would make a better starting route instead of the mayor's route.
"If we're trying to do something about traffic, everyone recognizes what traffic is like when UH is in session and when UH is not in session. Not putting the University of Hawaii in the initial segment doesn't make sense to me given the dynamics of traffic here on Oahu," Djou said. "I think it's critical that UH has got to get included in the initial segment."
The mayor's proposed route, Djou said, "starts in a dirt field, goes to another dirt field, goes to another dirt field and then end in Waipahu -- and that's the first, what, six miles?"
The mayor is aiming to break ground by 2009 and have a yet-to-be-determined 7- to 10-mile segment in operation by 2012.
Dela Cruz also has drafted a resolution asking for the administration to look at a spur to Central Oahu, and said all options should be reviewed.
Deciding on a minimal operating segment is part of the requirements to obtain federal funding for the project, and cost-effectiveness is one criterion.
"Members are welcome to come up with any other suggestion that they feel might work, but in the end the numbers have to work so that the dollars are within our grasp," Garcia said.
The mayor's 20-mile initial segment would cost $3.8 billion to build. He has promised to build it with federal funding and money collected from the 0.5 percentage-point general excise tax surcharge that began Jan. 1.
"I hope we're looking at what is the best (initial segment) for the amount of money and for what we can afford," Apo said.