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New rail route OK'd


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POSTED: Thursday, January 29, 2009

The City Council approved a bill yesterday that diverts the intended route of the city's $4 billion rail-transit system to the airport, angering residents who wanted the line to go through Salt Lake.

;[Preview] Honolulu Council Switches Transit Route
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The city had planned for the planned transit system to change from Salt Lake to the Airport.

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In a 6-2 vote, the City Council passed legislation that alters the 20-mile transit route to go to the airport and Pearl Harbor Naval Base instead of the Salt Lake residential area. The rest of the route for the elevated system, from Kapolei to Ala Moana, will stay the same.

The approval came as no surprise since the City Council resurrected the debate over the rail route in November, when a majority of Oahu voters voted in favor of the system.

“;It makes sense,”; said Councilman Gary Okino, who voted in favor of the airport route. “;The airport route is clearly superior.”;

The airport route will generate higher ridership, according to a detailed report by city consultants, but will cost about $220 million more for construction since it is about three-fourths of a mile longer.

“;Our economy is worsening,”; said Councilman Romy Cachola, who represents the Salt Lake area and who voted against the change. “;It will translate into an increased burden on our taxpayers. During these economic times, we have to be more sensitive.”;

Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who has long preferred the airport route, has distanced himself from this renewed debate, stating publicly that this is a City Council decision.

“;The decision is the Council's decision,”; Wayne Yoshioka, the city transportation director-designate, said yesterday. “;We would always respect whatever decision they made in regard to the alignment.”;

Councilmembers Charles Djou and Todd Apo introduced the idea of changing the rail alignment after the November election, causing an uproar among Salt Lake residents.

Salt Lake resident Tom Strout took off from work to aggressively lobby the City Council in 2007 when it selected the Salt Lake route. Strout also campaigned hard in Salt Lake for residents to vote “;yes”; on a ballot question in November to approve the project.

“;I wish they (the City Council) would have left it alone and done what they planned the first time,”; Strout said this week. “;That way, my taking vacation for the community wouldn't have been in vain.”;

“;When it's increasingly uncertain whether we can pay for the Salt Lake route, opting for the more expensive route, in my view, is reckless,”; said Salt Lake resident Mark Taylor.

Cachola, who was the deciding vote in 2006 to create the mass transit system, claims the mayor promised Salt Lake residents in a closed-door meeting that there would be a transit stop in their community.

Councilman Duke Bainum also opposed the airport route because of its cost.

“;I think the airport route would be a whole lot better if the route continued into Waikiki,”; Bainum said. “;It is my sincere hope that Salt Lake, with its dense population, will get a spur sooner or later.”;