City unveils proposal for mass-transit stops
When Sebastian Florante realized yesterday that the city potentially had placed a mass-transit station at the Kalihi intersection where he recently opened a restaurant, he saw an opportunity for business gain — and some loss.
Florante was among many in the community giving an initial favorable reaction to the possible stations for Honolulu's long-awaited proposed transit project.
Residents from 'Ewa Beach to Kalihi and Waikiki said they would likely use the system, though some said the stations and a rail system might be an eyesore in their neighborhoods and that construction of the entire project might lead to more traffic in the short term.
Florante held his grand opening in January for Dillingham Cafe and Catering at Mokauea Street and Dillingham Boulevard. And yesterday's lunch crowd seemed happy with the eclectic mix of food: Filipino favorites include banana lumpia, crab-cake loco moco and even a Kahuku shrimp special.
He figures a station would benefit his business by bringing customers to his doorstep. But it also could take away half of his parking lot.
"Maybe it's good, maybe it's bad," he said.
The details released yesterday show 64 tentative stations along four alternate routes, with 25 to 30 stations on each intended to serve the main residential areas from Kapolei to the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.
The number and proximity of stations increase as the routes approach the city, where many riders would exit for work or school. Some of the routes even go underground in the downtown area.
Public comment on the proposed locations will be taken at a later date.
'EWA BEACH PERSPECTIVE
Alice Higa, 59, lives near Renton Road in 'Ewa Beach, less than a block from a proposed station. She said traffic coming into and out of 'Ewa along Fort Weaver Road is "ridiculous" and thinks the transit system will help alleviate the burden.
"This is one of those things that just irritate me," Higa said. "At least something will be done."
Higa doesn't travel into downtown Honolulu regularly, but she said that when she would, she'd be likely to use the transit system.
"And for people who just have to commute daily, they'll ride it," Higa said.
"We've waited long enough. ... We're almost in a crisis situation."
JoAnn Gionson, 58, said she hopes the transit system doesn't turn into an eyesore in her suburban neighborhood.
"I would hope that they blend it into the surrounding community," Gionson said.
She also was skeptical about whether it would alleviate traffic coming into and out of 'Ewa.
"People are so ingrained in using their own vehicles, and sometimes it would not work out for all people because they have children to pick up and other things to do," Gionson said.
While Gionson is retired and would not use the transit system, she said she thinks that "people who work and have to hassle with traffic might use it."
Ricardo Dicho, 54, said the transit system could cause more harm than good to the neighborhood, at least in the beginning.
"I'm thinking about the inconvenience of the construction. Just to get to work is already hell. Now imagine construction slowing everything down," he said.
Dicho drives every day into Waikiki, where he works at a hotel. He said he would not ride transit if it's going to operate "like the bus system, where it takes me four hours."
Across town, all of the four proposed routes would likely place a stop near University Avenue and South King Street, which is good news to Kea Wells, who works at The Book Shelf selling used books.
"It would be beneficial to all the businesses in the area," said Wells, who says she would use a transit system.
Living nearby in Mo'ili'ili, she already depends on the bus to get around. When she moved from the Big Island last year, she turned to public transportation.
"I left my car behind," she said.
CITY COUNCIL VIEWS
City Council members have been briefed on the plan, and most said they are cautiously optimistic.
Councilman Romy Cachola said all of the lines pass through some part of Kalihi, which is within his district. Cachola said the way he'll vote on which transit route and technology the city should select will depend on the overall financial picture — a combination of projected cost, ridership, parking and other factors.
He said it was crucial for the city to put out information on all potential stops, not just select one route to target "to avoid anyone saying it's all stacked."
Cachola would favor some stop near Aloha Stadium, noting that about 30,000 people live in that community. At least one of the alternatives includes a stop nearby.
"We're going to have to decide what's best," Cachola said, weighing convenience, availability of parking and the opportunities for growth through development and affordable housing.
Council Transportation Committee chairman Todd Apo said it was necessary to show the community a detailed map of potential stations along the possible routes. He said you have to look at both the stops near the communities and the destinations to "connect both of the dots in order to have a successful transit system."
Apo stressed that the stations now are "preliminary tentative proposals" so that the community can comment on what populations and destinations are served or not served.
By summer, the City Council will be examining the technology as well, ranging from the basic no-build alternative through more buses or a "fixed guideway" — meaning rail — system.
Longtime rail critic Cliff Slater said the station locations are a side issue to what he called two basic unanswered questions: total cost of the system and how much it could reduce traffic congestion.
Slater says that the city is underestimating projected rail capital costs by $1.6 billion, and that the latest estimates omit interest costs on the bonds, an additional $2.2 billion.
He also cautioned that the city is underestimating operating costs, "which they show as $4.7 billion total for the next 25 years in 2005 dollars.
"You do not build a rail system and it is there forever. It has to be replaced or rehabilitated every 25 to 30 years at a cost of billions," Slater said.
But longshoreman Pat Laa, a Kailua resident, said he's ready to pay higher taxes to finance a transit system that would ease the traffic he fights when he sometimes commutes to Kapolei.
"The traffic is so horrendous," Laa said. "If they can get a good mass-transit system, I'm all for that."
Mayor Mufi Hannemann said city officials will look closely at the cost of transit.
"We're going to be very, very prudent with taxpayer dollars," he said.
While it's too early for officials to express any preference on route or technology, Hannemann said, it's clear that something must be done to ease growing gridlock.
"If not transit, you tell me what," he said.