Mayor keeping politics out of transit
Recognizing the enormous importance of mass transit decisions, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and his administration have engaged community and civic leaders, government representatives at all levels, and business and labor interests throughout the latest round of mass transit planning.
The result is that we're closer now than we ever have been to making mass transit a reality, with strong public support, a local funding source for mass transit and solid federal backing, as seen in the most recent allocation of $15.5 million in federal funding -- thanks to our Hawaii congressional members.
Choosing the fixed guideway technology is the next critical step. It is a decision that requires tremendous amounts of expertise, and must rise above partisan and political interests.
Hannemann's proposal to enlist independent transit experts to make this decision is in keeping with that goal.
In selecting the initial phase of the mass transit alignment, the Hannemann administration, based on experts' advice, recommended a route that went from Kapolei to Ala Moana Shopping Center via Pearl Harbor and the Honolulu International Airport. This initial recommendation was based on the best federal cost-effectiveness index that weighed numbers of passengers on the system against the cost to build and maintain it. Meeting the cost-effectiveness index is crucial in determining eligibility for federal funding. The mayor also believed that the airport alignment best served the public interest.
What came out of the Honolulu City Council was an alignment that excluded the airport and went via Salt Lake instead because only four Council members were willing to vote for the airport. While this wasn't the optimum route, we compromised for a fifth vote for several reasons. First, the Salt Lake alignment falls within the cost-effectiveness index. Second, the mayor insisted that the entire 34-mile route, including the airport, the University of Hawaii-Manoa and Waikiki, be included in the environmental impact study so the city can include these alignments later.
Last, this compromise was done for the greater good and in the overwhelming interest of keeping the mass transit project alive and viable.
However, when it comes to choosing the transit technology, we cannot afford to compromise quality, efficiency or performance. This is a decision that must be based on facts and information rather than political factions and influence. Relying on an independent panel to select Honolulu's transit technology ensures this.
Is the mayor trying to cut the Council or the public out of this process? Of course not. Both the Council and the community already have been involved in making the technology decision. The Council established many of the criteria to be used in this decision when Council members selected the fixed guideway system as Honolulu's locally preferred transit alternative. That decision came after islandwide public hearings and hundreds of hours of public testimony, so the public has had a strong voice as well.
The mayor's leadership and determination coupled with the strong support of U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka and congressional Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono have brought the mass transit project this far. He will continue to demonstrate that leadership as he moves to create an integrated, reliable, multimodal transportation system to serve citizens today and tomorrow.
Melvin N. Kaku is director of the city Department of Transportation Services.