Honolulu rail project architects defend plan for elevated route
By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer
A group of architects who have worked on Honolulu 's planned rail project yesterday said they support plans to build the $5.3 billion train on an elevated guideway.
The group of about a dozen people working for eight firms distanced themselves from a position taken by the American Institute of Architects' Hawai'i chapter. The AIA is advocating that the city use flexible train technology that would allow the planned rail line to be built at ground level in Downtown Honolulu.
However, architect Stanford Lee, principal at Next Design, yesterday said he and others who have worked on the project feel the rail should be built entirely elevated. Further study of at-grade (ground-level) rail alternatives could delay and possibly derail the train project, he said.
"We're concerned that any significant delay caused by more studies could jeopardize the rail project," Lee said during a press conference at the state Capitol yesterday. "We're just saying support this project as it's been proposed in the environmental impact statement."
The group's comments follow last week's announcement by Gov. Linda Lingle that she will host a forum Monday for the AIA to discuss alternatives to the elevated rail line.
Lingle said Honolulu should consider building a portion of its commuter rail line at street level to save money and avoid putting more burden on taxpayers in a down economy. Lingle's announcement followed the recent disclosure of documents in which the Federal Transit Administration expressed concerns that Honolulu may not be able to afford the 20.5-mile train line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana.
Architectural firms represented at yesterday's Capitol news conference included: Group 70 International; Media Five Architecture; Urban Works; Pacific Architects; AM Partners; Ushijima Architects; and Yamasato, Fujiwara and Higa.
Those firms and the AIA all support rail transit. However, the AIA has said it is concerned about the costs and aesthetics of an entirely elevated rail.
Honolulu architect Scott Wilson, chairman of the AIA's transit task force, said the AIA's view represents the majority of the group's local members. The group based its support for a partially at-grade line on a survey of about 700 members, Wilson said.
"There was about 30 percent that said yeah, elevated is fine," he said. "It was clearly a definite majority did not want elevated rail."