30-day rail delay a minor matter, Hannemann says


POSTED: Friday, October 30, 2009

While the expected December groundbreaking for the city's $5.3 billion rail transit project is being pushed back by a month, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann says he does not see it as a setback.

“;Come on, 30 days? We've been waiting 40 years for this, so to take another 30 days is minor,”; Hannemann told reporters yesterday after delivering his first “;State of the Rail”; address.

Hannemann's administration spent $10,000 on the program at the Mission Memorial Auditorium to provide an update on the progress of the rail project.

Starting with a video depicting the mayor commuting into downtown from West Oahu by train, Hannemann outlined the history of proposed rail projects dating to the administration of Neal Blaisdell.

His address comes at a critical time for the project.

The city is awaiting state and federal approval of a final environmental impact statement for the proposed 20-mile elevated rail route. Once that is complete, the city would need a federal “;record of decision”; before construction can begin.

;[Preview]  Mufi Rail Presser

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“;I'm prepared to basically give them a little more time,”; Hannemann said. “;I think what's prudent is maybe another month to anyone that has to sign off in these closing minutes—if you will—of this project that we've come so far on in four years.

“;It's just my willingness to be flexible and compromise.”;

A prominent rail opponent said the mayor's speech was indicative of a potential hang-up in obtaining final approval for the environmental impact statement.

“;I think, obviously, they're having trouble because the mayor said at least a month,”; Cliff Slater, founder of Stop Rail Now. “;We think it'll be more than that.”;

Slater noted that Hannemann boasted in his speech about how the city had completed the initial planning stages in just four years, versus five to 15 years.

“;They've rushed this so fast,”; he said. “;It is normally a slow process. They just missed some things along the way, and I think they may have to go back and do them—fill in those holes.”;

Hannemann emphasized that extensive delays could cost the project money, with fierce competition at the national level for federal dollars and the potential raid of transit money by the state Legislature.

“;There are some in the Legislature that would love to take this money away. There are some in the state administration that would love to take this money away,”; Hannemann said. “;I think we've made a clear and convincing case why that money should stay where it is: to build a project that will create jobs.”;

The Legislature explored raiding the city's rapid transit fund, which is funded by a half-percent surcharge on the state general excise tax, last session.

State Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Niihau-Kauai), majority leader, said a raid is possible again as the state faces a growing budget deficit.

“;I'm sure there are discussions that are going to go on, and every source of funding is going to be looked at closely,”; said Hooser.

>> Click here for Mayor Hannemann's full speech