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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 6, 2003

Rapid-transit project full steam ahead

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

With the the first contract set to go out to bid next month for the Bus Rapid Transit system, and construction expected to begin in January, current City Council members may not get a say on the Iwilei-to-Waikiki portion of the controversial proposal.

Members of the Transportation Committee met yesterday to discuss the project's final environmental impact statement, which is open for comment until Monday. But it was an informational session with no action taken on reports from the city Department of Transportation Services and testimony from the public.

"The project has already been approved," said Council Transportation Chairman Nestor Garcia.

The previous council approved $31 million for the downtown project, which eventually will include special bus routes to Kapolei and other outlying areas. About $20 million of federal money also is available.

The Federal Transportation Administration must approve the environmental impact statement on the BRT system before the project can move into construction, said Cheryl Soon, director of the city Department of Transportation.

Clyde Shimizu, chief engineer with Parsons, Brinkerhoff, Quade and Douglas, gave council members a presentation on initial operating plans for the BRT system.

Construction is proceeding very rapidly, Shimizu said. Bids will go out in October for the Kuhio Avenue construction, with a notice to proceed issued in January. The Ala Moana and Kalia Road bids are expected to go out in June 2004, with construction to begin in September. BRT operation would begin in 2005, he said.

DTS Chief Planner Toru Hamayasu said the city had modified the project in response to comments from the public. The most controversial aspect of the proposal — dedicated BRT lanes — was eliminated except for Hotel Street and one block of Kalaimoku Street. Buses may be allocated semi-dedicated lanes instead that also can be used by right-turning vehicles and tour buses.

That change has raised the ire of taxi drivers — who already opposed BRT — because they cannot use the semi-dedicated curb lanes to pick up and drop off passengers.

"The taxi driver's income is going to go down at least by a third," said Dale Evans, president of Charlie's Taxi.

Michelle Matson, a member of the Kapiolani Park Advisory Council, addressed council members in their role as Kapi'olani Park trustees, and contested the placement of a bus terminal on Kapahulu Avenue fronting Honolulu Zoo. He said it encroached on park land.

But deputy corporation counsel Dawn Spurlin said the location fell within the city's right-of-way, and a nonobtrusive bus stop was an appropriate use of park land.

Although several people testified against the system because of potential traffic congestion, representatives from the Sierra Club, Waikiki Improvement Association, Land Use Research Foundation and American Public Works Association testified in support of the bill.

Reach Treena Shapiro at 525-8070 or tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: Statements by Cheryl Soon, director of the city Department of Transportation, were mischaracterized in a previous version of this story.