Panel vote gives city rail transit go-ahead
The Oahu metro planning board OKs the 20-mile route, but it could change
A Lingle administration official voted yesterday with the majority of members on a Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization committee in giving the city the green light to proceed with its rail transit project.
Brennon Morioka, state Department of Transportation deputy director, said he voted to approve transportation plans for the city's 20-mile transit route from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center because he believes it keeps alive the possibility of the first segment running by Honolulu Airport.
"We still believe that the airport route will likely become the route should rail move forward," Morioka said.
Gov. Linda Lingle has been one of the leading critics of city plans to route the first transit segment along Salt Lake Boulevard instead of by the airport.
The OMPO Policy Committee vote was 11-1 with Councilman Charles Djou voting against the proposed change to the Regional Transportation Plan. One member, state Sen. Carol Fukunaga, did not attend yesterday's meeting.
"I know the deck's stacked already," Djou said, indicating that he knew the amendment had enough votes to pass.
Djou said he voted no because he believed that going along with the amendment would be a "de facto" ratification of the Salt Lake route, which he opposes. He wants to see the first segment not only run by the airport, but also go to the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Morioka said he went into the meeting with concerns that the language of the amendment included a reference to the city's planned initial route along Salt Lake Boulevard. But Morioka said OMPO staff assured him that what the panel voted on yesterday is general enough to include the airport in the initial route in the future.
Morioka said the airport will be studied as part of the environmental impact study for the entire 30-plus-mile overall route from West Kapolei to UH and a branch to Waikiki, and that the state will continue to lobby for the airport route in the initial segment.
"We've already sent formal letters to both the city and (Federal Transit Administration) requesting that the airport route be evaluated as part of the EIS and that the financial comparisons be made as well as the ridership comparisons," Morioka said.
Yesterday's vote fulfills a requirement the city needed to apply for federal funding for the $3.5 billion initial route and move on to the next stage of the planning process: preliminary engineering.
City spokesman Bill Brennan said the city is submitting documents for the grant application.
"We're happy the vote was nearly unanimous as it was," Brennan said. "It's another required step in the FTA process which we have now met."
Brennan said he was also pleased that the state Transportation Department voted the way it did.
"To weigh in favorably at this OMPO vote is another sign there's more and more support from several quarters for transit," Brennan said. "The arguments are over the fine points."
The Policy Committee, OMPO's key decision-making body, is made up of six state legislators, five City Council members and the directors of the state and city transportation departments.