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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 18, 2010

City pushes to keep its elevated-rail plan


By Rob Perez
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Gov. Linda Lingle

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A day before a group of architects is supposed to push for alternatives to Honolulu's fully elevated rail plan, the city brought together its own transportation experts to counter that push, arguing an elevated line should move ahead as planned.

The administration of Mayor Mufi Hannemann yesterday brought together the former state and city transportation directors, including one who used to work for Gov. Linda Lingle, to urge the governor to keep the $5.3 billion elevated commuter rail plan on track and not call for a rethinking of the plan.

Lingle recently suggested that the city consider adjustments, including building part of the line at street level, to save money and avoid putting more burden on taxpayers in a depressed economy.

She is hosting a forum today for the American Institute of Architects Hawai'i chapter to discuss alternatives to the elevated rail line.

But those at yesterday's news conference told reporters that the rail question has been debated for several decades, Lingle herself previously supported a proposal for a fully elevated line, the city's elevated plan has gone through many evaluations, and public hearings since 2005 and voters have approved the plan.

To further debate the project and consider alternatives will only add to the cost and further delay addressing Honolulu's serious traffic problem, they said.

"I think the debate should stop here," said Rod Haraga, who served as Lingle's transportation director until 2006.

The city needs Lingle to accept the environmental impact statement for the project. Without that acceptance, the project can't go forward, according to Kirk Caldwell, the city's managing director.

"She would doom us to basically the status quo," Caldwell said.

In a statement, Lingle's chief of staff, Barry Fukunaga, said, "Gov. Lingle is supportive of transit and prudent development provided such projects make sense and are carried out in the right way."

He added, "For those reasons, she will not simply rubber-stamp the rail project's (EIS) when it arrives for her review."

Lingle has supported an elevated system in the past, according to those at the news conference.

After forming a task force in 2003 to consider the rail question, Lingle eventually endorsed a plan for a fully elevated, 22-mile line, according to Haraga, who was her transportaion director then.

Caldwell also said 11 of Lingle's state agencies have weighed in on the city's current plan, and not one has raised any issues regarding an at-grade, or street level, system.

Hannemann, who is championing the city's plan, left yesterday for Washington to meet with key federal officials about it.