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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lingle supports putting rail on ballot

 •  Plan to pay millions for Honolulu rail's operation, maintenance still unclear

By John Windrow
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Gov. Linda Lingle

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Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday took a very visible position in the battle over O'ahu rail, announcing that she had signed an anti-rail group's petition to give O'ahu voters a referendum on the $3.7 billion elevated commuter rail system.

The move was criticized by Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who said, "Despite the governor's apparent desire to revisit her earlier support for rail transit, we will continue to work closely with state agencies that have invested considerable time and effort to improve the quality of life for O'ahu commuters and their families."

Lingle said she was not casting a vote against rail, but instead wants to provide "O'ahu voters the opportunity to decide whether or not they want a rail-transit system."

She added she was not advocating for or against the rail plan.

"My reason for signing this petition is to give the people of O'ahu the opportunity to make an informed decision on what will be the most expensive project in state history," she said in a news release.

Rail opponents organized as Stop Rail Now started a petition drive April 21 to obtain 40,000 signatures to get an ordinance added to the November ballot. The group says it has reached that goal with three weeks remaining before the deadline, Aug. 4.

However, the city clerk's office maintains that the group will need valid signatures of at least 44,525 registered voters. That means Stop Rail Now could need significantly more signatures to ensure a vote.

Stop Rail Now's proposed ordinance reads: "Honolulu mass transit shall not include trains or rail."

Stop Rail Now's campaign manager, Eric Ryan, said: "We are pleased that Governor Lingle accepted our invitation to sign Stop Rail Now's petition. Like the other 40,000 citizens who have signed the petition thus far, she read it, she understands it, and she knows its significance."

In a statement last night, Hannemann said the rail plan as currently envisioned has the support of the University of Hawai'i, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the state's congressional delegation.

"The $900 million in federal funding that this project stands to receive will be a tremendous boost to our slowing economy," Hannemann said. "As gasoline prices continue to soar, we look forward to completing the project's Environmental Impact Statement soon, and to breaking ground on schedule next year."

Speaking last night at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, Lingle said the rail debate has become too heated.

"I think it's important in the next few months that both sides come out with clear, objective information," she said, before the start of an unrelated Hawaii Masons and Plasterers union event she was attending.

She said an independent analysis is needed because the arguments by the opposing sides have become so bitter.

"The average citizen wants to know what this means over the long term," she said.

She said she would consider having the state pay for a study.

Lingle said her support for the petition has not changed her "past support of rail transit" and that she believes "a rail system could be a viable transportation alternative for the island."

The rail debate has been marked by accusations from both sides of misleading and deceptive information. While Stop Rail Now has pushed aggressively for the petition, a rival group, Go Rail Go, has set up a Web site that allows people to remove their name from the anti-rail petition.

Reach John Windrow at jwindrow@honoluluadvertiser.com.