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Keep moving on rail


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POSTED: Monday, October 26, 2009

Longtime critics of a rail transit system for Honolulu are warning Mayor Mufi Hannemann to go slow in building it, but prompt action is warranted to help Hawaii's economy and keep costs down. The mayor indicates that steps have been taken to keep punctual progress from backfiring on taxpayers.

Hannemann announced that the city has awarded the first rail construction contract to Omaha-based Kiewit Pacific Co. at $483 million. The company's low bid was $90 million lower than the original estimate because of the dismal economy.

By breaking ground before the end of this year on the 6.9-mile beginning leg from the eastern, yet-to-be developed part of Kapolei to the Leeward Community College area, the city will provide an economic stimulus. Bids will be invited next month—more than a year earlier than originally scheduled—for the 3.9-mile stretch from Leeward college to Aloha Stadium.

The Federal Transit Administration earlier this month gave the go-ahead for the city to begin preliminary engineering of the 20-mile transit system between Kapolei and Ala Moana. Hannemann noted that no project that has reached that step in the process has been denied subsequent federal funding.

The rail system was not conceived with the primary motive of putting jobs into the state's economy, but the timing lends itself to that benefit.

“;This is why we need to get this project going now during a down economy because of the lower costs for the project,”; Hannemann said in a prepared statement. “;The project will give our local economy a big boost and help get people back to work.”;

Other aspects of the transit project also have come at the right time. In August, the city awarded more than $40 million in federal stimulus funds for transportation projects, including the preliminary engineering work.

The city also is going forward on TheBus facilities that will become an integral part of the rail system. Ground was broken in September for a Middle Street Intermodal Center with a pedestrian bridge connecting to the adjacent rail line. It will include a 1,000-stall parking structure.

Longtime rail naysayers are skeptical about the speed with which the Hannemann administration is going to build the transit system. The reliability of future federal funds is backed by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would be foolish not to capitalize on the circumstances at the very time stimulus is needed.