Elevated rail is best choice


POSTED: Thursday, January 14, 2010

Persuaded by architects who have questioned the city's rail transit plans for the past two years, Gov. Linda Lingle has arranged for a public meeting to rally opposition to the project. Her threat to reject an environmental impact statement could delay progress on the much-needed transit and deserves the strong response by Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

Lingle said this week she had yet to see the environmental statement but has found a group of architects' opposition to the elevated system “;very compelling.”; She called the system “;not aesthetically pleasing,”; although the plans resemble her 2009 proposed elevated “;flyover”; two-lane highway above Nimitz Highway through Kalihi.

Some members of the American Institute of Architects' Honolulu chapter have said that any rail system should be at street level, even though such a system would create three traffic lanes and havoc at street crossings.

In a letter to the editor yesterday, architect Shaun Ushijima asserted that the opposing group does not represent all architects. He called the elevated system “;far more efficient and safe”; than a street-level system. That echoed the sentiment of a dozen other architects in a news conference Tuesday backing the city's elevated rail project.

The environmental statement must be approved by both the federal government and the governor. Such statements are required by federal law to “;objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives and, for alternatives which were eliminated from detailed study, briefly discuss the reasons for their having been eliminated.”;

In a letter to the opposing architects in January 2008, Hannemann said the street-level options “;were considered”; as part of the “;alternatives analysis”; during 2005 and 2006. The options were given “;significant public review and input,”; including 13 City Council meetings, but the architects “;chose not to participate”; in the process, he added.

Lingle's statement this week that she was concerned about the cost of the elevated rail system is puzzling, because that was one of the considerations in rejecting a street-level system. Wayne Yoshioka, the city's transportation director, has explained that street-level rail is appropriate in cities with ample undeveloped land, such as Phoenix.

However, Yoshioka pointed out, 300 businesses and homes were displaced in Rainier Valley of Seattle to make way for a five-mile street-level rail system. Honolulu's 20-mile elevated system with 21 elevated rail stations will require fewer than 40 land acquisitions.

Hannemann notes that Lingle supported an elevated rail system early in her administration, and her opposition now is nothing short of “;amazing.”;

Nixing the environmental statement threatens to postpone progress on the system's development until her term as governor ends at the end of this year, adding further to the cost and halting the creation of construction jobs when they are most needed.