Wednesday, January 27, 1999

Harris’ latest option on
isle traffic problem

IN his State of the City address, Jeremy Harris tossed out for discussion and study a third alternative solution to Oahu's transit problems -- a mix of light-rail transit and express buses. New articulated express buses would bring commuters into Honolulu on a dedicated highway lane. This would entail restricting the zipper lanes on the H-1 freeway to express buses and extending them to Nimitz Highway.

The express buses would unload their passengers downtown, and they would then proceed by electrically powered trolleys as far as the edge of Waikiki. Other traffic on Nimitz would be shifted to a previously proposed Sand Island Parkway and tunnel under Honolulu Harbor.

This would be less expensive than the previously proposed trolley from Pearl City to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which could cost at least $500 million. It would require cooperation by the state, which operates the highway system.

The longer trolley plan is still on the table as an option, along with expansion of the city bus system. The new plan is a mix. The mayor said the proposal came out of community meetings called Oahu Transit2K. He called it "an exciting alternative." Whether it is feasible and preferable to the other alternatives will be examined by transit officials.

The earlier trolley proposal was itself a retreat from the previous city plan for an elevated rail system, which was narrowly rejected by the City Council in 1992 in a vote on a proposed increase in the general excise tax to finance the city's share of the cost. There is considerable doubt that an at-grade trolley mixing with street traffic can result in a substantial improvement in the traffic situation.

The latest proposal has the advantage that the express buses would have unimpeded routes on the H-1 zipper lanes. And they presumably could deliver people downtown at less cost than a trolley system. The trolleys would have a much smaller role under this plan -- which might not be a drawback.

Harris announced a Waikiki business improvement district -- a public-private partnership to enhance the center of the visitor industry. Continual improvement of Waikiki is vital to the state economy and this appears to be an effective approach.

To protect the environment, he spoke of acquisition of more park land and the expenditure of $60 million to upgrade the sewage treatment system. Both programs are essential.

Harris addressed the problem of recruitment of police officers by mainland departments, saying he hoped to provide pay increases in the new union contract, although not this year. He hailed the reduction in the city crime rate and recited a list of planned police substations around Oahu as steps toward more effective law enforcement.

A proposal that may raise some eyebrows would give 19 community groups $2 million each in capital improvement bond money to use as they saw fit. This supposedly would help in "creating a government that governs through incentive and inspiration rather than through restraint and regulation." That sounds good, but handing over money in such amounts to community groups with no strings attached seems questionable.

The mayor delivered an optimistic message, recounting achievements and brimming with plans for improvements. He made it plain that he does not intend to let the city's serious budgetary problems prevent his administration from building a better Honolulu. However, he did not detail the measures he proposes to enable the city to cope with its projected shortfall -- a problem that he will soon have to confront.


Prep Bowl demise

FAILURE by Oahu's private and public high school sports leagues to reach a compromise over the issue of player eligibility has threatened to end the Prep Bowl, the annual football showdown between the two leagues' champions. After 27 years of match-ups and following an inaugural pay-for-view televising of the game, its demise would be unfortunate.

Public schools comprising the Oahu Interscholastic Association require that students be confined to four consecutive years of eligibility for sports participation. The Interscholastic League of Honolulu's private schools allow students to participate for four years during a five-year period, allowing one year of what is known in college athletics as redshirting. In a unanimous vote, principals of the OIA schools voted to secede from the Prep Bowl. They envision a post-season state tournament excluding ILH member schools.

The OIA's contention that redshirting gives the ILH teams an advantage is legitimate, although of marginal significance. Cal Lee, the football coach at St. Louis School, winner of the past 13 Prep Bowls, says the 15 teams he has taken to the bowls have included only one fifth-year player. Private schools' recruitment practices are undoubtedly a greater factor in their domination of recent Prep Bowls.

In intra-league events sanctioned by the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, ILH players who have taken advantage of the redshirt rule have been ineligible. For example, two brothers who were all-state basketball selections as juniors last year at Iolani School, an ILH member, have been advised they will not be allowed in post-season play this year because they were redshirted in their sophomore year after transferring from a public school. The state tournament, which includes public and private schools, is sanctioned by the athletic association.

If Lee is right that the OIA is making much ado about very little, the ILH member schools should not be disturbed if their fifth-year players be required to sit out the Prep Bowl, just as their basketball players must hang up their suits at the end of regular-season play. If greater differences exist between the two leagues, which seems likely, the leagues should reveal what they are and try to resolve them.

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