Mayoral hopefuls
to scrap BRT plan

They say the transit proposal
is not viable without federal funds

The loss of federal funding has routed the city's Bus Rapid Transit project to the junkyard, the two candidates vying to be the next mayor said.

"BRT is over. It's time to move onto light rail," mayor candidate Duke Bainum said yesterday.

"I think it's foolish to continue with BRT when you can't build it out," added Bainum's opponent Mufi Hannemann, who noted that the state had already panned the idea of using state freeways to take BRT to other regions of Oahu.

They said that if elected mayor, they will not use any more city money to complete Mayor Jeremy Harris' plans for the Bus Rapid Transit, which uses high-capacity hybrid gasoline-electric buses on dedicated lanes.

And if any federal transportation money becomes available to the city, it will be used to improve island bus service and other projects to attack traffic congestion, they said.

The Federal Transit Administration said in a letter to the city earlier this week that the city's Bus Rapid Transit project was no longer eligible for $20 million because the city started the project before the federal approval process was completed.

Managing Director Ben Lee, however, said that the city is not losing the money, crediting U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye with saving funding that Lee said could be used by a future mayor to expand BRT.

But Jennifer Sabas, Inouye's chief of staff, said the senator moved to exclude use of the federal money for Bus Rapid Transit after the FTA's most recent decision. She said the money was reprogrammed for uses other than for BRT -- bus and bus facility-related initiatives as well as work on the Kapolei interchange.

"Our concern was to make sure that we didn't lose (the funding) and that whatever initiatives are ongoing that are not part of the BRT can proceed forward," Sabas said. "If nothing else, to make sure we reprogrammed to save those dollars, which we have done, and which will allow the next mayor to have latitude on expenditures."

BRT critic Cliff Slater said the Harris administration did a good job of trying to save face on the loss of the funding. "They spun the Dan Inouye thing quite well."

Slater said he is not quite ready to write the obituary of Bus Rapid Transit, mainly because construction is already under way on the Waikiki phase of the initial operating segment, which would have run between Iwilei and Waikiki.

"It's on life support. It's brain-dead, so somebody's got to put it out of its misery sooner or later," Slater said.

He said the city might try to use any remaining funding from the $31 million Kuhio Avenue improvements to try and complete work that was originally designated to be paid for by the federal dollars, such as the widening of Kalia Road and Ala Moana Boulevard.

"They could complete the thing in a very (careless) way so when (Harris) leaves office he can say that it's completed," Slater said. "In my view there is no way they can complete the (initial segment) as planned."

Slater said a lawsuit filed by Sensible Traffic Alternatives and Resources Ltd. to stop the project is pending in U.S. District Court and could be the vehicle to make sure the project is dead.

Bainum and Hannemann said the Kuhio Avenue project could be used for other purposes other than Bus Rapid Transit -- either beautification or bus improvements.

Hannemann said the only additional money he might use on the Kuhio Avenue project would be to address any potential health and safety problems that could come about as a result of the narrowing of lanes.

The two candidates also said that any future federal dollars could be used toward other traffic solutions, including projects leading up to a light rail system.

Bainum said that could include using money to complete the hub-and-spoke system, which could link up to rail.



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