City sticks to steel rail as choice for transit
Two City Council members have failed to change the technology for the city's $3.7 billion mass transit system from Mayor Mufi Hannemann's desire for steel wheel on steel rail.
In an expected move, Transportation Chairman Nestor Garcia yesterday deferred -- and in effect killed -- a bill that would have allowed the city to consider a bus system and magnetic levitation. The bill was authored by Council members Ann Kobayashi and Donovan Dela Cruz.
"I don't know if we need to go through all (the meetings) again and we all know what the results are going to be," said Garcia, who supports a steel rail system because he believes it is a proven technology. "This is my way of saying we need to move on to get on with the business of building this elevated fixed-guideway system."
Last month, Kobayashi and Dela Cruz pushed for the two other technologies, though both acknowledged there would be a slim chance of the changes getting approved.
Hannemann had long favored steel rail for the elevated system running from Kapolei to Ala Moana. Hannemann had vowed to veto any measure that selected anything other than steel rail, and with four of the nine council members supporting his decision, it would be unlikely to get the six votes needed for an override.
"It's a shame," said Kobayashi, who favors a bus system because she thinks it would be cheaper to build. "We won't have time to introduce another bill. It just seems pointless because the same thing will happen."
After the City Council failed in April to make a decision on selecting technology by deadlocking 4-4 in the absence of Chairwoman Barbara Marshall, Hannemann announced he would move forward with steel rail as the technology.
According to a city ordinance, the City Council has three months after his announcement to pass a bill on technology. That likely won't happen by the July 16 deadline with Garcia refusing to give the bill a public hearing.
"The mayor made a decision and that's what will carry, even though I don't think a majority of the Council supports steel on steel," Kobayashi said.
Kobayashi said the only way there could be a change in the system's technology would be via an anti-rail group's petition.
Stop Rail Now, a small group with many of the same members as honolulutraffic.com, which advocates for toll roads and designated lanes, has collected at least 7,000 signatures as of this week, according to its organizer, Michael Uechi.
It would take 45,000 voters' signatures by August to get a question on the November ballot for voters to decide whether "Honolulu mass transit shall not include trains or rail."
"I have a sense that people don't want what's happening right now," Uechi said. "We believe that people should have the right to vote on this issue because it's so expensive."
Hannemann wants work to start on the first segment in Kapolei by late next year. Inflation and interest bring the project's cost closer to $5 billion, according to city estimates.
The debate on the technology for the mass transit project has lasted several months. A panel made of five transit experts recommended steel rail in February because they said it is the most common technology that would give the city the best advantage when seeking bids.
Kobayashi and Dela Cruz wanted buses on concrete because they say it is cheaper to build and would be quieter than rail.