Honolulu’s Rail Project Back in the Crossfire This Fall

Honolulu Rail Construction

» Front runner in mayoral contest opposes rail project. But it’s already under construction.

In 2008, Honolulu’s citizens approved the construction of a new high-capacity rail line that would provide quick public transportation along the city’s coastline. The $5.3-billion, 20-mile project is one of the largest in the nation, but it is backed by a steady source of local revenues and the almost definite promise of a federal New Starts capital grant that will cover about a third of costs. Moreover, it has held the support of the city’s leaders consistently since 2005, when pro-rail Mayor Mufi Hannemann entered office. The project broke ground last year.

After the mayoral primary earlier this month, however, the project’s future is decidedly up in the air. Current mayor Peter Carlisle, a major supporter of the project, received only 23% of the vote and will not make it to the second round. On

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Rapid Transit Closer to Realization as Honolulu’s Rail Project Breaks Ground

Honolulu Transit Map

» $5.5 billion, automated rail corridor is expected to attract 100,000 daily riders once it is completed in 2019.

A week after the Federal Transit Administration recommended it for New Starts funding, Honolulu’s rapid transit project took a step forward today with a ceremonial groundbreaking. The massive scheme, which will extend 20 miles from downtown to East Kapolei once construction is finished in 2019, will radically redefine transport on Oahu, offering residents a true alternative to traffic-plagued surface streets and highways.

Honolulu and the surrounding municipalities — incorporated into Honolulu County — are hemmed in by a geography whose natural barriers make the tropical metropolis practically ideal for fixed-guideway transit like the system that is now being designed. With mountains to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south, there is little room for the city to expand, so the only place it can go

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It's Governor Lingle versus Mayor Hannemann on Honolulu Rail Project

» The recession pushes the Governor to argue for changes, including a conversion from heavy rail to light rail; the Mayor of Honolulu stays the course.

At $5.35 billion, it was bound to provoke a fight.

Honolulu’s planned heavy rail transit system, which would run 20.2 miles between East Kapolei and Ala Mona Center by 2019, is expected to serve more than 100,000 daily riders along its 21-station elevated guideway. That is, if the city is able to secure a federal New Starts Full Funding Grant Agreement as planned in 2011, and as long as it is capable of maintaining adequate tax revenue to pay for the line.

That’s where Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle (R), now in the last year of her second term, and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann (D), in the second year of his second term, strongly disagree. Whereas Mr. Hannemann is a strong proponent of the

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Still in Planning, Ambitious Honolulu Rail Transit Project May be in Financial Trouble

Tax revenues fall short in paying for 20-mile system, connecting downtown with Kapolei.

Yesterday, the Honolulu Advertiser revealed that in May the city had reviewed the costs of its planned transit system and realized that revenues over a 13-year period would be short $500 million compared to previous estimates. The news came as a bombshell for proponents of the rail line, who have worked hard in recent months to defend the credibility of the project. It gives additional ammunition to opponents who still hope to prevent the project’s construction, and were able to harp on the city’s secrecy as evidence of corruption. Honolulu’s experience, however, is little different from that in most other American cities today suffering from the consequences of the recession.

Honolulu’s rail transit line, which was approved by voters last November, will connect East Kapolei with the airport and downtown on a 20-mile elevated route that

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Is Elevated Acceptable?

Honolulu debates the look of its future transit system.

Is a new high-capacity transit system worth the visual encumberments it will cause? Should the views of a beautiful tropical city be obstructed for the benefit of passengers on public transportation? That’s the question now being debated in Honolulu, which is planning an elevated rail line that will run throughout the city.

Hawaii’s biggest city is planning a 20-mile transit line, running from Kapolei in the west to Ala Moana Center downtown, via Waipahu and the airport. Honolulu’s density is high enough to require a rail system with a fully independent right-of-way; the city’s The Bus transit system already carries an average of 225,000 riders a day, and the new line is expected to transport a full 95,000 of those passengers by 2030. The first phase of the system is expected to be completed by 2018 at a cost

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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