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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 5, 2006

Mayor speaks on transit, our future

Video: Mayor Hannemann shares his vision with Advertiser Community Board

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann talks with Community Editorial Board members about mass transit and related issues. From left: Hannemann, Chris Godwin, Sunshine Topping, Charlie Palumbo, Mark Dyer, Shana Logan.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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To see learn more about our Community Editorial Board members, or to apply to join our board, go to honoluluadvertiser.com/opinion


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The Advertiser's Community Editorial Board recently sat down with Mayor Mufi Hannemann and our editorial page staff to talk about rail transit and other issues facing O'ahu. Community board members include: Mark Dyer, a small-business owner from Kane'ohe; Chris Godwin of Kahuku, a retired special agent for the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service; Shana Logan of Punalu'u, a library assistant and full-time student at Hawai'i Pacific University; Charlie Palumbo, an architect and design consultant from Niu Valley; and Sunshine Topping, a human resources director from Honolulu.

Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Sunshine Topping: What's different now with rail that you think it might be successful and go through all the way this time?

Mayor Mufi Hannemann: What's different now is that there is a strong recognition that there is traffic congestion seven days a week on the west side. And you don't have to live in the heart of Wai'anae to experience that. I live in 'Aiea. I feel it every day.

No. 2: The political will is there.

Why? Because I'm sitting as mayor of Honolulu. I'm not going to allow this to fail. And the only reason why we are here is because I heard the governor say in her State of the State speech in January '05 something to the effect of, "I'm looking forward to working with the new mayor of Honolulu on a mass transit solution for O'ahu." If a Democratic mayor can demonstrate that he can work with a Republican governor to bring this about, maybe we will make it happen.

So we went to work, we rolled up our sleeves. We talked to members of the Legislature and we had the GET (general excise tax) increased for the first time in over 40 years. Everybody talks about raising it, but nobody wants to do it. We got it done in one legislative session.

Then I went to Washington. I remember having a conversation with (former) Transportation Secretary (Norman) Mineta. He laughed when I brought it up. He said, "You know, I was sitting as the public works chair (in Congress in 1992), and I held on to that money for two years. When I got the phone call that Ho-nolulu had said no, I fell off my seat, I couldn't believe that Honolulu would say no to this." So he didn't think that we would be serious enough this time.

I said life's different this time, there's a new mayor.

I talked to the congressional delegation, and their words were "We don't want to be embarrassed again, Mr. Mayor, We were embarrassed 14 years ago."

Where are we today? Thanks to Congressman (Neil) Abercrombie in particular, the House has us as one of 10 new cities that are eligible for funding in a field of over 350 projects. That's significant. On the Senate side, Sen. (Daniel) Inouye and Sen. (Daniel) Akaka have already gone through the transportation appropriations process with monies now available for preliminary engineering. That's a major message in Washington that life is different now and that we're serious.

Here at home, it was a struggle to get the governor to recognize that it was a state responsibility to collect the GET. They've done that with a guarantee from the city that we would help them if they fell short. They're poised to collect the tax on Jan. 1, 2007.

And most importantly, I really believe that the majority of the people support rail. I really believe that's where most people are at. Toll roads are not the solution. They can complement rail, but they cannot replace rail.

That's what's different now. I'm not going to let the City Council fail this time around. I'm talking to them every day about it.

Chris Godwin: What is your vision for how people get to the rail system?

Hannemann: That's a good question. I'm a proponent of rail, but I don't believe we should put all our eggs in one basket. I see a multimodal system in place. I see a system where rail is the centerpiece, but where we also take advantage of our excellent bus service. And we have express-bus service that takes us either to the rail station or to a transit center that once again will provide direct service.

I see a ferry system that we will put in from the west side. Ferry systems have been done before, but the problem was that the city and state did not work together. My view is to take a page from Vancouver and Sydney, Australia. One ticket gets you onto the bus, onto the ferry, onto the bus, so that would be another way for folks to access the rail system.

Certainly bike paths, certainly having people given the opportunity to walk in clearly marked, very safe sidewalks or walking paths that will get them to the rail station. Obviously park and ride. The study that we did has outlined areas where we could do this. That's why this study took over a year to do.

Charlie Palumbo: The Land Use Ordinance (LUO) is dead. We need a dynamic document. If we're going to do the rail system, we need to look at that. Right now, there's lots of crazy development happening out there. We need to look at the LUO and how it relates to rail.

Hannemann: I couldn't agree more. I'm absolutely on the same page with you. That's why I'm very concerned that the City Council wants to have transit-oriented development legislation in place before they have a rail and route decision. That's where the focus of the council chairman is, and that's where the focus of the zoning chairman is, and it's absolutely wrong because if we are going to amend the LUO, it should be done with community input.

You need those affected communities to come to the table. You cannot automatically assume that the development that Kalihi wants is going to be the same type of development that Waipahu wants, or that Kapolei wants. It's different across the board.

Every city that I visited, they all said that you lay the rail and the route down, then you do the land-use decisions, and with community input so that you can properly plan. So that's our concern right now ... There is this mentality there of making sure that the City Council is at the forefront to say to the developers, "You come and play with us or get our approval before you move forward." I've said to the Council that it's a joint policy decision. You folks are the policymaking body, but at the end of the day, it's the departments that implement those new policies. So we can't get ahead of ourselves.

I would love for you to testify about your concerns. Because they are really trying to put the cart before the horse. And trying to designate what type of appropriate zoning and land use are going to take place without knowing where this rail and route are going to go.

Mark Dyer: Where do you see the city being in 20 to 50 years, and what limits to growth will there be? Should government be encouraging or limiting that growth? To me, that determines whether rail makes sense or not.

Hannemann: I think that it's been tried in the past. I was with Gov. Ariyoshi's administration when he tried to limit immigration here, when he tried to limit growth, and constitutionally we can't. We can't stop people who are American citizens from moving here.

I also happen to believe that too many of our talented folks have left the state because of limited opportunities here. I want to welcome them back, and I really believe that it is shortsighted vision to start issuing or proclaiming draconian measures to limit growth here. If you look at statewide population, O'ahu is growing at a slower pace than the Neighbor Islands.

We have gone to great lengths to repair our aging infrastructure, our basic city services.

This is why I'm a strong proponent of rail. It's all about connecting the west side with the east side. And around rail is a concept called transit-oriented development. I view that as an opportunity to do livable communities where we can start addressing the quality-of- life issues that are missing in many of our communities, whether it's parks, whether it's open space, whether it's bike paths, whether it's walkable lanes, commercial, retail, housing ... I think we can do that, if we do it right.

Shana Logan: I'm sure that the city has conducted an environmental impact statement (EIS).

Hannemann: We haven't yet.

Logan: And when will that be conducted?

Hannemann: The City Council said they wanted us to accelerate our schedule to get the analysis to them by Nov. 1. This is what six members of the City Council asked us. We wanted to get it to them in early 2007. They said to us very clearly: They wanted it from us by Nov. 1, 2006, because the tax was going to be collected January 2007. They wanted to make a decision by Dec. 31 2006.

In the spirit of cooperation, we said OK, if you want it by Nov. 1, we'll get it to you. We would have preferred to do a simultaneous path on both. So this is when we had to reverse our game plan and get FTA (Federal Transit Administration) approval, which is why I want them to approve it this year so we can start on the EIS as soon as possible in January, so we can start on preliminary engineering in January. They need to know that the mode is going to be rail, and they need to know what the route is, where is it going to go. We have to be very specific. Those things have to be completed and given to the FTA. Then we can do the EIS and preliminary engineering. You couldn't do the EIS because of their accelerated time table. We will do the EIS, but we can't get it started until the LPA (Locally Preferred Alternative) is completed.

Logan: Will the EIS be shoved on the side in the spirit of cooperation and the spirit of trying to get this done? I want to know from you personally what you think you might find in an EIS that would be a problem.

Hannemann: I don't believe, based on the fact that we have studied this corridor to death, that we are going to find something that we can't mitigate with respect to the environment. There are always issues that will come up, but I don't see any show stoppers. And I love this land as much as anybody else. I don't want to do anything that will be environmentally damaging. I have said to my Cabinet that our main goal as stewards of City Hall during the time that we are here is that we want to leave the place better than we found it.

That said, know that the EIS has to be blessed at the federal level and has to blessed at the state level. Even if we wanted to push it out, we can't proceed without having an EIS that is acceptable. I know, given the work that (chief transportation engineer) Toru (Hamayasu) and his folks have done, I don't see something cropping up. But, of course, if it does, I believe that we can mitigate that, and we can certainly come up with a solution to be able to resolve whatever those concerns are.

Dyer: What's different now? How do we know that we're not going to be sitting here 20 years from now, when the rail is half-finished and over budget and doesn't work?

Hannemann: I really believe that timing couldn't have been better, because people are tired of traffic gridlock, and my mantra is this: If you don't agree with the solution that I put on the table, then come to the table with something else. Don't tell me it's bad. Don't tell me no, no. That's the easiest thing in the world grumble, grumble, grumble, complain, complain, complain. ... I want solutions. So unless you have a better solution, this is the only way to go.

We have been so open and transparent.

Some are going to make the cost the issue. So I said I want something around $3 billion. So what we presented is a plan that shows what it will cost to fully build out, which is $4.6 billion, and a $3.6 billion shorter version that still allows us to meet the FTA requirements. For us to get federal funding, they need to see the ridership. So that shortened version will demonstrate that ridership. It can be done for $3.6 billion and we'll have some change left to do the operations and maintenance.

If we do the $4.6 billion, we are going to need help. And I said that very candidly. The GET tax alone will not do it. We have to make sure that the federal funding is of a greater magnitude. We have to make sure that public-private partnerships really kick in big time. I really believe, as we've seen with other cities, once you build it, get that first leg in, people will say build it up, build it up.

But it's gotta start someplace, and somebody has to put up their big frame and take the whacks and I'm glad to do that, 'cause I know that future generations will say, "Man, we have a courageous guy over there that finally did the right thing."

Leadership is aligned on this one. The people need to come forward, to make sure that they hold our feet to the fire.

The longer we delay, the more we're going to pay. I can't stress that enough.