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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 14, 2006

Rail? Not in Waikiki's backyard

By Robert Shikina
Advertiser Staff Writer

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

The city is conducting a transportation analysis until November.

In November, the study's findings will be reported to the City Council.

In December, the City Council will select one of the four alternative transportation options as the locally preferred alternative.

Jan. 1, a 0.5 percent general excise tax increase will begin on O'ahu to fund the transit system.

The projected start date of construction is 2009.

For more information, go to www.honolulutransit.org.

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Saying there would be little benefit but more noise, congestion, crime and a significant change in the landscape, the Waikiki Neighborhood Board has voted overwhelmingly against a proposed extension of O'ahu mass transit into the area.

"We hope it will send a message: the residents don't support the idea of a rail into Waikiki," said Louis Erteschik, vice chairman of the neighborhood board.

The board's almost unanimous rejection of a 1.5-mile stretch of rail Section 5 of the mass transit plan represents the first time a Honolulu neighborhood group has banded together against any of the mass transit proposals.

However, the 15-1 vote is a largely symbolic motion for the board. The city's neighborhood boards serve only in an advisory capacity and have no governing powers. The vote took place Tuesday night.

A spokesman for Mayor Mufi Hannemann said the vote was premature. And a representative of a group of hotel employees said a rail spur into Waikiki could help the transportation needs of some of the 6,500 union members who have to commute to work.

Bill Brennan, the mayor's spokesman, said a route for O'ahu's mass transit system won't be finalized until December, when the City Council chooses from one of four alternatives: a fixed-rail system, an elevated roadway, a managed road for buses, or an alternative to take no action at all.

Once that decision is made, Brennan said, the City Council will decide on the route.

Cade Watanabe, a spokesman for Local 5, said many of the union's members must commute to the area from 'Ewa and Waipahu.

"My idea is they would be open to some form of transportation that would help them get to work faster," he said. "A lot of them work two jobs."

Rex Johnson, president of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority, said while a rail spur in Waikiki would benefit the employees who commute, mass transit would present infrastructure problems.

"I really don't know where you'd put it," he said. "I don't think it would kill Waikiki at all if there was a station nearby and you shuttled (people) from that station."

The part of the route the Waikiki board voted against is just a sliver of the 23-mile mass transit route that would run from Kapolei to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. The board objected to a proposal to run rail from the Hawai'i Convention Center, along Kuhio Avenue, to Lili'uokalani Avenue.

The two stops in Waikiki would be at Kuhio Avenue and 'Olohana Street and Kuhio and Ka'iulani avenues.

The cost of the proposed mass transit system is estimated at $3 billion, and city officials estimate that by 2030, 130,000 people would be using the rail system every day.

Some board members, despite the vote, realize that if a rail system is built on O'ahu, it will likely come to Waikiki because of the number of tourists.

"In terms of bang for your buck, you can't pass (Waikiki) up," Erteschik said.

The lone supporting vote was cast by Jeffrey Merz, who said it's only logical to connect the most densely populated neighborhood in the state with the airport, the university and downtown areas.

"For Waikiki to be left out, 15 years from now, when that thing is up and running, Waikiki is going to regret it," Merz said. "It'll (cost) 10 times more."

Hannemann, at an unrelated news conference yesterday, said he wants to hear opinions and comments from the community on each transit proposal.

But he also thinks that some major transit improvement is needed.

"The status quo is totally unacceptable," he said.

Reach Robert Shikina at rshikina@honoluluadvertiser.com.