Council expands transit options
The mayor criticizes a vote to allow more discussion on types of transit technology
Even though an expert panel selected rail as the technology for the city's $3.7 billion mass-transit system, the City Council will consider whether a vehicle with rubber tires or magnetic levitation will work in Honolulu.
The City Council voted 5-4 to amend a bill to consider the rubber-tire-on-concrete option along with rail. After six hours of discussion focused on including an elevated bus system, Councilman Todd Apo also proposed including magnetic levitation, a last-minute change that passed unanimously.
"Tonight's vote means that rail is still moving forward," Mayor Mufi Hannemann said in a statement last night. "But it is a shame that the Council could not support the process it voted to create. The Council did not fully support the findings of the technical panel that a majority of the Council members voted for."
While some councilmembers said the revised bill will allow more discussion on the different technologies, others expressed frustration on revisiting options that an expert panel had dismissed.
Councilman Charles Djou, who clapped his hands over his face when a second floor draft amendment was introduced at 8 p.m., called the whole process a "farce."
Added Councilman Gary Okino, who voted against including the rubber-tire option, "Continuing to keep more than one technology will just bog down the project, which in the end will only cost us more."
"The public really hasn't had the chance to look at the alternatives," said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who has been pushing a rubber-tire system. "People think mass transit has to be a train, and it doesn't have to be that way."
More than 60 people testified at a lengthy City Council meeting yesterday, with the views split on the technology for the elevated 20-mile system running from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said he will leave the decision of the technology up to the City Council, but strongly urged them to make a choice quickly so a delay does not jeopardize federal funding for the project.
Critics of the rail system argued it would be too noisy and costly, with little impact in alleviating the traffic congestion. Others argued that the Council should stick with the decision by a panel of experts.
"I feel they should put their pride and their political endeavors aside and let the decision made by the expert panel move forward," said Kurt Fevella, an Ewa Beach resident.
The city administration argued that having multiple technology options would increase the cost for the preliminary engineering studies.
The bill goes back to the Council's transportation committee before a final vote by the Council as early as next month.
The city spent $55,000 so far on a panel of transit experts that selected rail in February as the technology for the system. The panel said rail is the most reliable and most common in cities and would give the city a competitive advantage when seeking a company to handle construction.
At a meeting Tuesday with Star-Bulletin editors and reporters, Hannemann said he believes several councilmembers are hesitant in supporting the panel's decision because they are being lobbied.
"I really believe why some of them are hung up on technology is that there's money to be made and they're being lobbied," Hannemann said. "(This) is why I say keep the technology out of the hands of politicians and let the experts handle it. It'll insulate us from the wooing game that takes place."