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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Honolulu mass transit details emerging

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

WHAT'S NEXT?

At community meetings late this month, the city's consultant will release the newest information it has gathered on various transit alternatives. At the meetings, analysts will provide estimates of the cost of the various segments as well as ridership information. Meetings will be held:

  • Saturday, June 24: 8:3010 a.m. at Kapolei Hale

  • Monday, June 26: 5:307 p.m., Mission Memorial Auditorium (near Honolulu Hale)

  • Wednesday, June 28: 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m., Aliamanu Middle School cafeteria

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    THE TIMETABLE

    June: City plans to complete technical studies of conceptual designs; finish an initial analysis of cost estimates and traffic and ridership forecasts.

    July: Consultant updates construction costs and projected ridership and provides initial operation and maintenance cost estimates.

    August: Consultant plans to release environmental findings.

    October: An analysis of alternatives is sent in draft form to the Federal Transit Administration.

    November 1: City Council receives alternative analysis.

    December 2006: City Council selects preferred alternative.

    January 2007: City starts collecting tax to pay for transit.

    January to May 2007: Draft environmental impact study is prepared.

    2009: Estimated start of construction.

    2012: First segment is completed.

    2015: Estimated finish of total project.

    Source: Honolulu Department of Transportation Services/Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas

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    City planners have produced a computer simulation of what new mass transit options could look like. They expect to disclose detailed cost and ridership estimates later this month.

    Halfway through the study that will chart the path for Honolulu's transit future, engineers plan to tell the public at a series of meetings June 24 to 28 the details of how much each alternative could cost and how many people might choose to ride on the different routes.

    The city is studying the 23-mile traffic corridor from Kapolei to the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and Waikiki, which includes core residential and work communities on O'ahu. City planners said that area also is projected to absorb 69 percent of the population growth on O'ahu over the next quarter-century.

    City planners and a consultant plan three community outreach meetings this month that will lay out significant details.

    For example, earlier public statements included maps of where the stations would go on the various rail transit routes but only provided approximate locations.

    Now, engineers are determining exact locations where the stations could be built.

    Toru Hamayasu, the city's transit project manager, said such stations would need to be built on relatively flat parcels, each large enough to accommodate a station about 300 feet long.

    Hamayasu said the meetings will provide a lot of information about various options.

    The city is examining four alternatives to try to ease traffic congestion on O'ahu:

  • No-build, or do nothing.

  • An enhanced bus system.

  • Managed lanes such as an elevated road or a viaduct that would start at the H-1/Waiawa Interchange and end at Pacific Street in Iwilei.

  • A fixed guideway, or some kind of rail alternative, along various routes.

    Hamayasu said the city this week is mailing 20,000 copies of a newsletter that includes computer renderings of what a typical rail transit station could look like, and what a managed-lane bus stop could look like.

    He said that comes in response to multiple requests to show people what they might expect.

    For example, the rail transit alternative information will spell out various costs and ridership estimates for options on five segments of that concept.

    For the managed-lane alternative, the two concepts being considered are:

  • A reversible option allowing two lanes of town-bound traffic during morning rush hour and two lanes 'Ewa-bound during the afternoon peak;

  • A two-way option that has one lane in each direction all day.

    The managed-lane alternative also would allow another access point to enter and exit the dedicated lanes near Aloha Stadium. The new lanes initially would serve buses and vehicles with more than one occupant, but drivers traveling alone could be allowed on the elevated lanes if they paid a toll.

    Hamayasu said it's important to explore all the options, and these meetings give the public a look inside the planning process.

    "We're not pushing transit. We're doing technical work," he said.

    Longtime rail critic Cliff Slater said recent federal studies suggest that traffic congestion can be better eased "with the cooperation of the private sector" through such options as managed lanes.

    Slater pointed to a Federal Transit Administration study that explored such options.

    "In those 16 pages, there is no mention of rail transit, but there is mention of express buses on uncongested highways," Slater said.

    Hamayasu said planners have promised to meet a Nov. 1 deadline to get the alternative analysis to the City Council for action in December. City officials hope to begin construction by 2009, to have the first leg of a system operational by 2012 and to finish the project by 2015.

    Cost estimates have ranged as high as $2.8 billion.

    Lawrence Spurgeon serves as supervising environmental engineer for city transit consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas.

    He said coming up with an analysis of cost and ridership can be complex.

    Because the consultants and city are providing analysis to the City Council, no single price tag is appropriate for the rail proposal, which is being considered in five segments that range from 3 miles to 7 miles.

    Although it sounds more complicated, it provides more flexibility to the Council members, Hamayasu said, allowing them the opportunity to examine each segment for its pros and cons: "This one's cheaper, but more people will ride this one."

    City Councilman Todd Apo, who represents the Leeward Coast area, said he thinks the public meetings are vital.

    Apo said traffic remains the "No. 1 issue, no question," for the people of his district. "People are looking for relief in this area," he said.

    The council has been in favor of mass transit by a solid majority of seven of nine members.

    But Apo said the more details that are available, the better chance the long-debated transit solution will actually be built.

    Detailed information is especially important because lawmakers have had to increase the excise tax due to rise from 4 percent to 4.5 percent in January.

    "We need to know exactly what we're building before we start taxing," he said.

    Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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