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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 29, 2009

Council changes transit route to serve airport

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Honolulu's planned $5.3 billion elevated commuter train is now planned to connect to Honolulu International Airport, under a resolution passed by the City Council yesterday.

The resolution changes the route that previously went through the Salt Lake community. The change adds about $220 million to the cost of the project but is expected to generate higher ridership and greater community acceptance.

Much of the debate at yesterday's meeting focused on which route Honolulu's planned 20-mile train will take from the Aloha Stadium area to Middle Street. The former Salt Lake route was the product of a political compromise to win the swing vote of Councilman Romy Cachola, whose district includes the area. However, following November's narrow victory for the rail ballot issue, Councilman Charles Djou said he would support an airport route.

After the 6-2 vote, Cachola credited Djou for providing rail opponents with ammunition to sue the city or to launch another petition to put rail on the ballot. Incoming Councilman Duke Bainum, who voted against the change, also expressed concern that the council shouldn't change a route that was approved by voters.

"We did not abide by the vote," Cachola said. "People voted believing it would go through Salt Lake."

"(Djou) may have given the tools to the opposition, and I hope it will not happen," Cachola added.

Djou, who opposes the train project on cost grounds, maintains the airport route makes more sense. He denied that his support for the change was part of a plan to kill the project.

"That's not my grand scheme here, but I'm not going to be crying any tears if that happens," he said.

Yesterday's change in the route may not be the last. This month, a federal judge and U.S. marshal asked the council to divert the train's route from Halekauwila Street because of concerns that route would expose the nearby Prince Kuhio Federal Building to a potential terrorist bombing or attack by a lone individual holding a grudge.

Wayne Yoshioka, director of the city Department of Transportation Services, said the city is evaluating ways to accommodate security concerns without altering the train's route.

"We're still in the middle of this evaluation, but I think we want to try that first before we talk about moving the route," he said. "We're taking their concern very seriously and we will fully evaluate this."

However, Yoshioka said automobiles, which are allowed down Halekauwila Street, already pose a bombing risk. In addition, he said, nearby buildings would likely provide a better platform for sniper fire than would a moving train.

In other train-related business yesterday, the council passed a bill that fixes a glitch in the law that's preventing the city from soliciting bids to build the train, which is to connect East Kapolei to Ala Moana. Legally, the city has been advised not to solicit bids for any construction contracts until changes are made to the original ordinance authorizing the city to build the train.

The city plans to solicit bids for about $1 billion in contracts this year as part of an ambitious plan to start construction of an elevated commuter train in December. The city plans to launch limited train service in phases starting in late 2013 and ending in late 2018.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.