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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 1, 2006

Can transit plans stay on track?

 •  The burning questions of 2006

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

City officials are being asked again to decide what kind of mass transit system O'ahu should have.

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Here we go again. For the fourth time in the past 25 years, city officials in 2006 will be asked to decide what kind of mass transit system should be in O'ahu's future. If the past is any guide, the process is going to be a bumpy ride and could be derailed, to mix transportation metaphors, at any number of the stations along the way.

Through much of this year, a consulting firm working on a $9.6 million contract is scheduled to evaluate all the city's options for a new transit system, producing technical reports on everything from ridership estimates to environmental concerns to route choices. Eventually, those reports will be made public and widely discussed. In December, the City Council will select a preferred alternative on which the city will move forward.

In the past, politicians haven't been totally forthcoming about the true costs and needs of proposed transit systems, raising public suspicions. What's more, even a lot of people who like the idea of mass transit don't like something in particular about it: where it goes, how much it costs, what it looks like, who gets to work on it, who ends up controlling it. Those individual misgivings have sometimes coalesced in a way that ended up blocking transit development altogether.

So will it be any different this time around? Two factors argue in transit's favor in 2006.

First, traffic is getting worse and on the minds of more people than ever before. Even though mass transit is not designed to relieve congestion on state roads, more people might be willing to pay for and try an alternative in a time when the state's economy is doing well.

Secondly, transit has a strong advocate this time around in Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who has steered the process through several crisis points and seems committed to having an open process.

Still, the possibility of lawsuits, community opponents, nervous politicians and Hawai'i's deep commitment to a multicar culture all are lying in wait out there, making transit certain to be and up-and-down ride in 2006.

Reach Mike Leidemann at mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.