First phase of rail would end in Pearl City
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By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Sean Hao
If all goes as planned, in four years an end-to-end commute via Honolulu's new elevated commuter rail system would start in Kapolei and end 12 minutes later on the 'Ewa side of Pearl City.
That will leave many H-1 corridor commuters waiting much longer — until 2017 — before the train stops at major traffic centers such as Downtown Honolulu and Ala Moana Center.
The city's decision to start the massive project in what today is an east Kapolei field rather than in urban Honolulu has caused some critics to dub it the train to nowhere.
That's because three of the first six planned stops between Kapolei and Leeward Community College are in the middle of what are now empty fields. The plan is for those fields to turn into bustling communities by the time the train makes its first stop.
If things don't go according to plan, there could be little development surrounding transit stations in 2012, resulting in fewer than anticipated riders, at least initially. That would mean lower fare collections, which could require greater subsidies to finance the $3.7 billion project.
"The first three stops on the route are dirt fields," said Honolulu City Council member Charles Djou, an opponent of the project. "Right now there's nothing there. What traffic is that going to relieve?"
BEST STARTING POINT
Those dirt fields are the best place to start building the 20-mile line because they require little displacement of existing homes or businesses, according to city transportation officials.
Construction on the section of rail running from Kapolei to Fort Weaver Road would affect mostly non-residential properties and won't result in any building displacements. The segment also is not expected to cause the business and job losses anticipated when construction of the rail enters developed areas, according to a technical report prepared for the city last year.
"That's probably the easiest place to start," said Toru Hamayasu, chief of the city's transportation planning division. "There's no infrastructure or anything."
Groundbreaking on the mass-transit system could occur next year. Major east Kapolei developments planned near future transit stops include:
DHHL's projects, which include new headquarters in east Kapolei, and other nearby developments should change the landscape of east Kapolei. The key question is whether the new transit system will be running as scheduled in 2012, said DHHL spokesman Lloyd Yonenaka.
"We know our stuff will happen," he said. "Hopefully, everything will fill in and it will look very different than it does now."
Honolulu residents and visitors already are helping to pay for the system via a half-percentage-point surcharge levied on nearly all O'ahu transactions, which started in January 2007. That surcharge is expected to raise about $3 billion before expiring in 2022.
Once completed, the full 20-mile route is expected to have operating and maintenance costs of about $61 million a year. According to the transit system's most recent publicly available financial plan, 28 percent of future operating and maintenance costs are expected to come from rider fares. If farebox collections are lower, more money would need to come from the city or other sources.
The transit system's first phase would generate higher ridership if it stopped at major traffic draws such as Waikiki, Downtown, UH-Manoa or Honolulu International Airport, Djou said.
"If you wanted to help people out, (start at) maybe H-1, H-2 merge to the airport, Pearl Harbor area," he said. "That would probably do far more to help relieve traffic."
The desire to start the commuter rail in Kapolei also is driven by the need for a maintenance yard, which the city prefers to place near the H-1 and H-2 freeway merge.
The city also said the Kapolei leg of the rail is being driven by increasing ridership needs. Westbound average daily ridership on TheBus between Kapolei and Waipahu rose 165 percent to 2,091 between 2004 and 2007, according to the city.
The Kapolei preference also helps ensure the guideway will be built the full 20 miles from the 'Ewa plain to Ala Moana, said state Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu).
"I think the likelihood of starting it in the country, on our side, and going inward will make that longer stretch more likely to happen," he said. "It forces it to go all the way into town."
Reach Sean Hao at email@example.com.
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