Rail route could get easy OK by panel
The city's controversial mass-transit route from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center could win easy approval because of a new configuration of the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization's key decision-making body and what that panel will be asked to vote on Friday.
OMPO's Policy Committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Friday in the City Council committee room to approve an amendment to its Regional Transportation Plan.
"What it means for the city is that the city will be submitting a grant application to the Federal Transit Administration for preliminary engineering for the (initial segment)," said Gordon Lum, OMPO executive director. "Before the Federal Transit Administration can approve it, there's certain things on their checklist that need to be done. One of those things is that the OMPO Policy Committee show general broad support for this particular project. And I stress the adjectives 'broad' and 'general.' "
The action being proposed for the Policy Committee to vote on is worded generally enough -- support "Fixed Guideway, East Kapolei to Ala Moana" -- to the point that the Policy Committee does not have to take up the controversy on whether that first line travels through Salt Lake or via the Honolulu Airport.
"That particular issue, airport and Salt Lake, is an issue that our Policy Committee need not go into," Lum said. "It does not have to rise to that level of detail. We're looking for broad, general support."
That's because the wording is so general it does not preclude the city from going by the airport.
Councilman Charles Djou, a member of OMPO, said he still has a problem with what will be voted on and will try to amend it.
"Because it's so broad and vague, it's a de facto ratification of the ridiculous Salt Lake Boulevard route, and if you do not want to go down Salt Lake Boulevard and do want the airport, Pearl Harbor and (University of Hawaii) included as I do, this is sort of the last stand," Djou said. "The only way to force (the city administration) and the Honolulu City Council to reconsider their foolish decision (on the route) is OMPO saying, 'You should include the airport and UH.' "
But Djou is among those who believe that the recent changes in the makeup of the 13-member Policy Committee could lead to an easier approval process for the route.
Last week, Councilmembers Donovan Dela Cruz and Ann Kobayashi, critics of the route, were removed from the Council's Transportation Committee. Members of that committee have traditionally sat on OMPO's Policy Committee.
Dela Cruz, Kobayashi and Djou said the pair was removed to make room for supporters of the route.
Dela Cruz and Kobayashi have been replaced by Councilmen Todd Apo and Rod Tam, who supported the Salt Lake route when the route came before the Council earlier this year.
Djou also pointed out that the OMPO Policy Committee has traditionally included Republicans from the Legislature but that none is on the committee now, and so another voice of possible dissension won't be heard.
Djou said Dela Cruz and Kobayashi were important to the mix because they brought other views to table.
"They have a far better ability to influence Democratic members of the Legislature than I would, but now that they've been ousted, OMPO has been basically neutered," Djou said.
The only other objection could come from the state Transportation Department, he said, but he's not sure how it will vote.