Planning panel is next stop for debate on transit route
The Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization could resurrect the debate over whether the city's rail system should run by Honolulu Airport or Salt Lake.
Last month, the City Council decided that the first segment that would be built would be a 20-mile line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center via Salt Lake instead of the airport.
"We're going to have a huge fight before OMPO," said City Councilman Charles Djou, one of the 13 members of OMPO's Policy Committee.
The city's rail transit route must be adopted by the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, made up of appointed and elected city and state officials, before the city can proceed with the next step of the transit project: preliminary engineering.
Gov. Linda Lingle has expressed disappointment that the airport line wasn't selected and Mayor Mufi Hannemann told the Star-Bulletin that he hopes the governor doesn't use her preference for the airport to reject the city's route when it comes before OMPO.
"If they are disappointed that the airport is not in (the first segment), I'd be very disappointed if they vote against it. Definitely short-sighted on their part," Hannemann said.
"She should use that meeting to make it clear that they support rail. Don't use the myopic reason that, 'Oh, it doesn't go to the airport, we shouldn't be supporting this.' That's what I mean about sending mixed signals; you're either supporting it or you're not. And if you're not, tell me, what is your traffic solution?" he said.
Brennon Morioka, state transportation deputy director for highways, said the administration has yet to take a position on the OMPO vote.
"Our understanding is that even though OMPO takes a position on this particular segment that the airport route will still be studied as an alternative in the (environmental study)," Morioka said. "We want to be cooperating partners in this whole effort."
Lingle told the Star-Bulletin recently that the state likely will get more involved in the transit process as it relates to state highways.
"It's also important to have the facts on what the government can and can't do, what they expect to do because of the large amount of money involved and the importance of it being successful and if it isn't, the city will turn to the state," she said. "That's why I decided to become more involved."
Morioka said that involvement will come in the oversight of state rights-of-way.
"We want to ensure that our corridors that they do use are not negatively impacted, and we don't provide rail transit as an alternative only to create more congestion. We want to make sure that their project works in conjunction with what we're doing," Morioka said.
Hannemann made his statements late last week after returning from meetings in Washington, D.C., with Hawaii's congressional delegation and federal transit officials, saying that he will still push to break ground on the project by 2009.
"I can't be more upbeat and optimistic than where we are today -- stronger than ever before," Hannemann said in a recent telephone interview. "Now if we had the governor backing this thing 100 percent, even better."
Djou and others see a battle brewing at OMPO because three of the Council members voted against the first segment last month because Manoa and the airport weren't included.
Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa), who supports the routes and is an OMPO policy member, said he believes there are enough votes for the approval.