City & County of Honolulu

Harris urges Council
to move on bus plan

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

The City Council should give the green light to $35 million to build the first phase of the Bus Rapid Transit project, says Mayor Jeremy Harris.

"We have spent more time analyzing transportation improvements on this island probably more than any other city in the United States, and it's time we acted," Harris told reporters yesterday. "We've got a good plan. It's certainly a plan that represents the best thinking of not only the experts, but the community."

Harris was responding to questions raised by several Council members, primarily about the effectiveness of the in-town line.

The first phase calls for a high-capacity transit system, planned with frequent service and limited stops, to run 5.6 miles from Iwilei to Waikiki. The first phase costs $66 million, but the city will be getting $12 million in federal transit money this year and hopes to get $20 million more next year.

At least two Council members say that while they want to see a successful transit project, there are still questions that have not been answered.

Councilman Gary Okino said he has yet to get a detailed explanation of how the project can be successful when roughly 80 percent of the first 5.6-mile line will share lanes with other vehicles.

"Explain how it's going to work, make it clear it's going to work, not just say it's going to work," Okino said. "Intuitively, it doesn't seem like it can do that, given that it would be sharing a lane with regular traffic through the most congested areas of town."

State support for the Bus Rapid Transit is also suspect, Okino said.

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who heads the Budget Committee, said, "We're going to support it as much as we can without doing anything in haste."

Kobayashi said she is uncomfortable supporting funding for construction when the city still needs to acquire land for the project and to decide on a technology for the vehicles.

"We can always put a proviso in that the money will be released only after everything is ready," she said.

The votes of Okino and Kobayashi are significant because they represent two of the only three members on the nine-member Council who could return next year due to term limits. They could form a nucleus of opposition for the project still in need of many approvals.

Harris said the Council cannot afford to cancel another transit system after some 30 years of false starts.

"It's inconceivable to me that the public would put up with another five- or 10-year delay with our traffic problems," he said. "I don't think you can just continually restudy a problem. At some point you have to say, 'This is our best plan, let's move forward with it.'"

The Council just finished two weeks of intense deliberations on the $1 billion operating and $475 million construction budgets, during which the administration was grilled about its policies, such as the raiding of sewer funds to balance the operating budget.

City & County of Honolulu

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