State of Hawaii

A task force is proposing to solve Oahu's traffic congestion with an elevated light-rail system coupled with a Nimitz Highway "flyover," shown in this rendering.

Lingle presents
new plan for transit

The $2.6 billion system includes
light rail and requires a tax hike

Gov. Linda Lingle unveiled a proposal to build a $2.6 billion light-rail transit system and a $200 million elevated highway to help solve Oahu's traffic congestion, but she stressed yesterday that the plan will mean higher taxes.

"I think we need to be politically mature enough, treat the public like adults and let them know that clearly we would need substantial revenues beyond what we have available today in order to pay for a system like this," Lingle said.


Highlights of the state transit plan for Oahu:

Nimitz Highway Flyover
>> Cost: $200 million
>> Estimated completion: November 2009
>> Where: Along Nimitz Highway corridor
>> What: Elevated two-lane lane highway above Nimitz

Light rail system
>> Construction cost: $2.64 billion ($120 million per mile)
>> Operational cost: $22 million a year ($1 million per mile)
>> Where: Starting in Kapolei, running along Farrington and Kamehameha highways, eventually linking with the Nimitz Highway Flyover
>> What: The design is still to be determined, but light-rail systems generally are powered by electricity and use fewer cars than traditional train systems.

A task force of city, state and federal officials gathered in Lingle's office to release details for their proposal to solve Oahu's traffic congestion that includes an elevated light-rail system in West Oahu and a Nimitz Highway "flyover" highway.

"Without this, we will reach gridlock. With this, traffic will continue to move," said City Council Chairman Gary Okino.

The $2.6 billion light-rail project will stretch from Kapolei to Iwilei along an elevated line on a 22-mile route that will primarily follow Farrington Highway, then Kamehameha and finally Nimitz highways.

It will take about four years to update previous environmental impact studies on the project and another 10 years to complete construction.

State Transportation Director Rodney Haraga said that during the 10-year period, the rail system would be built in "snippets" with the initial phase running from Leeward Community College to Aloha Stadium and possibly a transit stop at Pearlridge.

The city will oversee construction of the rail system with the state and federal government assisting in securing funding, according to the proposal. A final design of the rail system will not be decided until after the environmental process.

No source of financing has been settled upon, but the task force has discussed options such as raising the fuel tax, registration fees, vehicle weight tax and the general excise tax. Discussions have also focused on the city being given additional taxing authority such as raising revenues through a sales tax.

Under the plan, the state also would build the $200 million Nimitz "flyover," an elevated two-lane highway that would run along the median of Nimitz Highway above the new contraflow lane. It would stretch from the Keehi Interchange near the airport to Pacific Street in Iwilei. The two lanes of traffic would head into town in the morning and then out of town in the afternoon.

Updating the environmental studies on the flyover will take two years, while construction is expected to be completed in 2009.

Plans call for the light-rail system to eventually connect to the flyover, which will then be converted into the rail system.

The rail system is then expected to link with the city's first phase of bus rapid transit, which will begin in Iwilei.

Lingle said she believes Mayor Jeremy Harris' first phase of BRT can coexist with the light-rail plans.

Haraga said that a bus system is needed to move riders from the rail system to other parts of downtown.

Lingle said that her administration will be going to the Legislature next session to request funding to pay for updating previous environmental studies for both projects -- about $250,000 for the flyover and $1 million for the rail system.

Extending the rail system to Waikiki and the University of Hawaii would be considered after 2018.

Rep. Joe Souki, House transportation chairman, wanted a pledge of support from the city before he was willing to back a tax increase for the proposal. Eleven years ago the City Council voted down a tax proposal to pay for similar project, in essence killing the project and losing $600 million in federal funding.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case said the consensus reached by the task force will be important to help secure federal funding of up to 80 percent of the cost.

"It is very difficult to walk up to Washington and advocate when we do not have the community behind you," Case said at yesterday's press conference.

In a phone interview, Souki said the state could raise the excise tax and pass the money along to the city, but the Council should pass a resolution endorsing a tax increase.

"My support comes with a caveat that a majority of the City Council support the financing by increasing taxes by up to 1 percent," said Souki (D, Waihee-Wailuku).

He acknowledged the political problems of raising taxes even for transportation improvements but repeated the common refrain for Oahu motorists that "something has to be done now."

Souki said that if it were up to him, he would raise taxes for education and prison improvements and not transportation.

Senate President Robert Bunda, who had endorsed a light-rail transit plan during his first speech to the Legislature last January, did not want to talk about tax increases until he knew how much the federal government would pay.

"I wouldn't be talking about tax increases until we understand what the federal match is," Bunda said in a phone interview.

Although a supporter of transit, Bunda asked, "Can we afford it?"


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