Public transit options scoped out at Blaisdell
By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Karen Blakeman
Public transportation options may be a subject that glazes the eyes of listeners in some corridors, but in crowded, pricey Honolulu, discussion about what may be the largest public works project in recent history tends to draw a crowd.
More than 250 people filed into Blaisdell Center last night to learn more about the city's options for moving people along congested routes between burgeoning West O'ahu and central Honolulu.
"I came because I wanted to see if the city has an open mind, instead of focusing specifically on light rail," said Barry Wong, a Kailua resident who said he travels extensively across the island as part of his home inspection business.
"My feeling," he said, "is that the only reason they had this meeting is because it was mandated by the federal government. But I'm trying to keep an open mind."
In an address to open the first of two "scoping meetings" to be held this week, Mayor Mufi Hannemann told the crowd at Blaisdell it was important for both politicians and the public to stay open to ideas.
"This process is far from being over, and I want to be really, really clear about that," he said. "At the end of the day it's going to take all of us working together and hopefully reaching some sort of consensus."
After his introduction, people in the crowd made their way individually to various trade-show-style booths where they could ask questions, look at maps and charts and write out or dictate their opinions.
The scoping meetings are part of a federally required process for all mass transit projects that hope to receive federal funding. The last of two scheduled meetings will be tonight in Kapolei.
Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas Inc. was awarded the $9.7 million contract to spearhead the city's "High-Capacity Transit Corridor" effort, and put together the evening's events.
"Very slick," Troy Seffrood, a Waikiki resident and University of Hawai'i graduate student, said of the presentation. "Very good."
"I really like the idea of a rail system or other form of good rapid transit, but I'm just concerned they've already made up their minds and they are just slowly letting us know," he said.
The city's timetable calls for coming up with one preferred alternative by December 2006 and having a completed draft environmental impact statement by early 2007. Construction on the new transit project could begin as early as 2009, city officials have said.
City officials have passed a 12.5 percent increase in the general excise tax to help pay for the project, which by some estimates could cost as much as $2.8 billion.
The tax increase goes into effect in January 2007.
Wong, the housing inspector, opposes the increase.
"I think we're overtaxed already," he said.
Ian Capps, a retired Reuters journalist who lives near Ala Moana, said he thinks it is important for Honolulu's leaders to get serious about public transportation.
"I've lived in London, Paris, New York, San Francisco — and I don't know if it would be possible for any of those cities to have grown and survived without their public transportation systems," he said. "Honolulu has limited land and space, and there is no way our traffic problems can be resolved without one."
Wayne Miyashiro said he had looked at the city's charts showing how traffic congestion would increase through the year 2030, and asked the Parsons Brinckerhoff representatives whether a public transportation system would ease the problem.
He was shocked, he said, when two different presenters told him congestion would not decrease.
Lawrence Spurgeon, who was manning one of the presentation booths for Parsons Brinckerhoff, said although public transportation will provide an alternative to sitting in the gridlock, trying to decrease the number of cars on H-1 was a losing proposition.
"Every time we pull one car off," he said, "another will replace it."
Reach Karen Blakeman at email@example.com.