Formation of transit
panel sought

Such a nonpolitical panel
of experts might speed up
plans, says Councilman Garcia

City Council members are looking at taking politics out of transportation issues on Oahu to speed up rail and other transit projects.

"What I don't want to see is many years from now, we are still discussing what solutions there might be for moving goods and services, as well as people, around this city and county," City Council Transportation Chairman Nestor Garcia said. "If we leave it just to the way the process is now, you can see by the weight of the evidence where we are: We're nowhere."

Garcia is calling for the formation of a rapid transit authority that would help move along transit plans.

"I think this panel would be charged with how to advance something that deals with mass transit, whether it's rail, whether it's BRT, whether it's how we move cars in and around the city and county," Garcia said.

He said the panel made up of transportation and planning experts -- and not politicians -- could have the power to tax, set fares and receive funding to give it power.

"If you don't have control over the fiscal, you don't really have anything," Garcia said. "You have no authority."

The comments came yesterday during a Council Transportation Committee meeting. The committee approved the city administration's request to move ahead with applying for $19 million in federal funding to complete the initial segment of bus rapid transit from Iwilei to Waikiki.

Politics has made it difficult to set bus fares, killed past attempts to bring rail transit to Honolulu and been blamed for the iffy status of bus rapid transit, officials pointed out yesterday.

"How many times now have we gone through rapid transit in all its iterations? BRT is kind of hanging out there still," Garcia said after the meeting. "So I'm just saying maybe we ought to take a look at the process of arriving at these decisions, how that might be reworked."

It is politics that has prevented the Legislature from giving the city taxing authority to fund a rail project, he said. "In an election year, this went over like a lead balloon."

Garcia said the idea is still in a conceptual stage, and he plans to research other models across the country. He also said he realizes there are many obstacles to overcome, such as not duplicating functions of other transportation panels.

At the same meeting, the advisory Transportation Commission asked the committee to give the commission the authority to set bus fares.

"You know how hard it is to do the fares and try to be fair to everybody," Commission Chairman Donald Takaki said. "With politics it takes a while."

Watching the deliberations as bus fares went up twice in one year helped the commission come up with its position, Takaki said.

The city is already using $31 million in city construction funds for BRT-related improvements that include controversial work currently being done along Kuhio Avenue. The federal funding will be used mainly to widen a portion of Ala Moana from the Ala Wai Canal to Kalia Road, as well as Kalia Road.

Those who testified in support reminded the Transportation Committee not to repeat past decisions that led to the loss of hundreds of millions of federal dollars.

"Frankly, our credibility in Washington has become laughable with our long history of indecisiveness," said former Councilwoman Darrlyn Bunda. "(Federal officials) have to see that we are committed to making this happen. They don't owe us anything."


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