Wednesday, January 28, 2009

City Council Shifts Rail Transit Route to Airport Citing Productivity, Efficiency, Common Sense

The City Council voted as expected today to select the “airport route” for Honolulu’s fixed guideway project, reversing a 2007 decision favoring an alignment along Salt Lake Boulevard.  (Links to Star-Bulletin and Advertiser stories are below this post.)

Council Member Romy Cachola, who represents Salt Lake, was joined only by returning Member Duke Bainum in voting against the airport designation. Bainum has been off the Council for the past four years since losing a 2004 mayoral race to Mufi Hannemann. Member Barbara Marshall was excused.

Saying he’ll sit on the sidelines from now on re the rail project, Cachola “credited” Member Charles Dijou for opening the door to select a new route following the voters support of a ballot measure in November that endorsed construction of a rail system. Cachola as much as predicted the anti-rail faction will try for another bite of the apple at the next general election and said Salt Lake residents who supported rail in November likely will switch sides if the issue ever makes it to a vote again.

The Intuitive Public

Bainum explained his vote against the route by saying he's not against the project but thinks the less-expensive Salt Lake alignment is preferable.

Member Gary Okino said the airport route makes sense because it will have a greater effect on reducing congestion than the Salt Lake route and because the airport has so much more potential for future development. “I think the public intuitively sees this as the correct route,” he said. “We’re being criticized (by the public) for not going to the airport.” (Okino’s polling of the public agrees with our own unscientific sampling.)

In an earlier dialogue with Cachola, Acting Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka said running the elevated guideway past Honolulu International Airport will create a strong business link between the airport gateway and downtown. A strong business-airport connection is an added argument for a business to relocate to Honolulu, he said.

The Right Way

Dijou, a former rail opponent who switched sentiments following the November vote, said connecting the airport, Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base is the right way to route the guideway.

Long-time rail supporter Member Rod Tam said the airport route is superior for its contributions to productivity and efficiency, adding that he believes the City can afford the additional $200 million it will cost compared to the Salt Lake route.

The Council earlier rejected a Bainum proposal that would have given the Council 30 days to comment on intended requests for proposals or invitations for bids from vendors on the project. DTS’s Yoshioka said any delay in the proposal and bidding process will push back the start of construction and creation of needed jobs.  Groundbreaking is still intended for December 2009.

Links to newspaper stories: Honolulu Star-Bulletin  •  Honolulu Advertiser

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