Light-rail plan gets
ho-hum reaction

The Senate president wants
to revisit the plan, but the
mayor stands behind BRT

OHA closer to ceded-land revenues
More Lingle Cabinet appointments

By Crystal Kua and Richard Borreca

A proposal by Senate President Robert Bunda to "dust off our plans for a light-rail mass transit system" to alleviate Oahu's traffic congestion received mixed reactions yesterday.

"Those of us in the Legislature must be willing to revisit this proposal to break the gridlock of indecision," Bunda said in his speech at the opening of the state Legislature. "If we fail, we will surely choke on the mounting traffic problems of a growing population."

But Mayor Jeremy Harris said he hopes that talk of a rail system will not derail his Bus Rapid Transit plans.

"I don't think anything should be done that's going to disrupt that," Harris said. "Now that doesn't mean (BRT) has to be the exclusive solution."

Legislature 2003

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The Senate Transportation Committee is proposing to pay the state's share of the rail cost -- 10 percent, with the federal government paying 90 percent -- with an increase in the gas tax. The proposal comes a year after the Legislature passed a bill to cap Hawaii's gas prices.

"As for our matching funds, I am looking at the possibility of a 2-cent gasoline tax for Oahu residents only," Senate Transportation Chairman Cal Kawamoto said.

House Speaker Calvin Say said Bunda would have to come up with the source of financing for the project. "I would be very much in favor because of the traffic conditions that we have."

Gov. Linda Lingle said she was surprised by Bunda's rail proposal but welcomes the discussion.

"Overall his point was a good one, and that is, we should be willing to entertain new ideas as well as ideas that maybe hadn't gone forward in the past," Lingle said.

Lingle does not support the mayor's BRT proposal. She has her own proposal, which she plans to reveal later, she said.

Harris said he sees BRT as a more immediate traffic solution that could even complement the rail system or be an interim solution while rail or other proposals are considered.

Dancers from the Polynesian Cultural Center performed in the Senate Chamber yesterday at the opening of the 22nd Legislature.

Council Chairman Gary Okino said he has always been a fixed-rail proponent. He said there is not much support for BRT on the new Council, but he is willing to allow the first phase of the project -- concentrated primarily on city roads between Middle Street and Waikiki -- to move ahead since the last Council gave its approval and funding.

But he cautioned the mayor about expanding BRT beyond that.

"I think the mayor should not come in for any more authorization. Just do the Phase One and show us whether it works or not before he asks for more money."

But with many ideas on the table about how to relieve traffic congestion, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said he wants to avoid what happened in 1992, when the City Council, by a 5-4 vote, decided against a tax increase to pay for the city's share of a rail proposal, scuttling the project and $600 million in promised federal aid.

"You're looking at the guy that brought that money (to Hawaii) and then had to give it back," he said.

Abercrombie said he would like to see a combination of rail and Bus Rapid Transit, but stressed that the city and state need to come to an agreement on one proposal.

Bunda's rail transit proposal was criticized as an old idea by one Senate Republican.

"Its time has come and gone. It is an expensive proposition that won't fly," said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai). "All this talk about how we will lose the money -- we have been there and done that already."

Lingle praised Bunda's speech, singling out his support of agriculture as being right in line with her thoughts. "Overall, I thought it was a good speech. ... His basic theme was a good one. I liked his focus on agriculture, and we are excited about agriculture," she said.

But Lingle added she did not like the political tilt to Say's speech.

Lingle called it "inappropriate" when Say attacked the Bush administration's economic policies.

Say said federal tax credits were "borrowing on our children's future."

"These measures are sure to bring happy days to the White House, but they will not put food on our tables or fix a school's leaky roof," Say said.

Say went on to charge that Republicans "manage the home front with public relations tactics and Republican programs that benefit the wealthy."

"I thought (his criticism of Bush and Republicans) was not appropriate for opening day," Lingle said. "I wondered if he was going to run for Congress."

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