Mineta on board for light rail
Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta said he is urging the City Council to select light rail when voting today on the technology for the $3.7 billion mass transit system.
In an interview with the Star-Bulletin yesterday, Mineta -- once a member of the Bush Cabinet who has since been hired by the city as a consultant for the project -- said light rail is a proven technology for a system that is much needed in Honolulu.
"Honolulu needed it back in 1992 and still needs it," Mineta said. "Light rail has been proven over and over again and it works well in all-sized cities."
Today, the City Council will take a final vote on the technology for the 20-mile elevated route from Kapolei to Ala Moana. For several months, the City Council has debated what the technology of the system should be -- the mayor's choice of rail, a rubber-tire system, magnetic levitation or a monorail.
Mineta dismissed a rubber-tire system, saying maintenance costs are much higher than rail. He said he understands why some are interested in mag-lev since it's a new technology, but said it isn't a proven technology for urban areas.
From 2001 to 2006, Mineta served as transportation secretary and is now vice chairman of an international public relations firm, Hill & Knowlton.
In 1992, Mineta supported Honolulu's mass-transit project, which was rejected by the then-City Council in a 5-4 vote. Mineta, who served then as chairman of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee, influential in controlling federal transit funds, had set aside $700 million for Honolulu's project.
"I'd been hanging onto this money for two years," Mineta said. "Everybody wanted it, and I would say, 'Get away, it's reserved for Honolulu.' As soon as that 5-4 vote came through, that money was gone."
Mineta said Honolulu is a good position to receive the $900 million to $1 billion it is seeking in federal funds with both leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees pledging to support Honolulu.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann contacted Mineta to get involved with the project again. Mineta said he will play more of a community outreach role.
The City Council will need five votes to pass a bill. Four Council members -- Todd Apo, Gary Okino, Nestor Garcia and Rod Tam -- have voiced their support for rail. Council members Donovan Dela Cruz and Ann Kobayashi have said they want a rubber-tire system, while Councilman Charles Djou said having more technology options would be beneficial.
Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall won't be at today's meeting because of family reasons. Marshall has constantly said she is against the project but wants to see it done right.
The decision could possibly be up to Councilman Romy Cachola, who has long supported mass transit but said he isn't "committed to any technology."