State of Hawaii

Transit group has
its first meeting

No solutions are produced, but officials
praise the meeting as a good starting point

By Crystal Kua

State and city leaders came together yesterday at a transit summit aimed at solving Oahu's traffic gridlock.

While Gov. Linda Lingle, Mayor Jeremy Harris and members of the state Legislature and City Council said they have not come to an agreement yet on one plan to attack the problem, at least one official said momentum appears to be heading in one direction.

"I think there is a definite movement toward fixed rail," Council Chairman Gary Okino said.

Lingle said the group will be meeting twice a month.

"I was just very impressed with how much consensus there was in the room and how much willingness for people to work together," said Lingle, who called for the summit earlier this year.

"I'm optimistic that we will actually get a lot of big decisions ... and I'm hoping by July," she said.

But the mayor is not giving up on the portion of his Bus Rapid Transit idea that would bring commuters from the outlying regions to downtown Honolulu. And while the city is going ahead with implementing the beefed-up bus system from downtown to Waikiki, the regional BRT plans appears to be stalled unless the state gives the city the green light to use state freeways.

Harris said there are benefits to proceeding with BRT even as an interim solution to fixed rail.

"We've gone through, like, four years of federal process already, and so we're very near ready to go with that. So we would be able to cut the time line way, way down if we went with the BRT," Harris said.

Harris said any new proposal at this point would not see construction begin for another five to seven years, following a pattern the city has seen for more than three decades.

"It's been impossible to sustain political consensus long enough to get through the whole planning process, the bureaucratic process that you have go through if you're going to use federal funds," Harris said.

But the mayor and others said yesterday's meeting was a good starting point.

"I think it was a productive first meeting on a step towards better cooperation," Harris said.

Senate President Robert Bunda, who proposed the fixed-rail solution in his opening-day speech, said "everybody kind of gave their manao (opinion) on what they felt on BRT or fixed rail or both. It was just laying everything on the table."

Okino, a fixed-rail advocate, said state officials appeared to be leaning toward a rail solution, and for good reasons: It will not only help will traffic congestion, but help direct population growth, he said.

"Most of the state people, they don't like BRT, I think," Okino said. "BRT does have some benefits, and it might be a practical way to get to this fixed rail. It might be a steppingstone."

But Harris pointed out that the project will cost an estimated $2.3 billion and that the state and city will have to come up with a way to pay for at least half of that amount.

State of Hawaii

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