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City rail team ready to surge ahead on project

By Toru Hamayasu

LAST UPDATED: 1:43 a.m. HST, Jan 30, 2011

The Honolulu Rail Transit Project achieved a key milestone recently in receiving a Record of Decision (ROD) from the Federal Transit Administration, which clears the way for construction to begin on the 20-mile rail line that has been decades in the making.

The issuance of the ROD completes the National Environmental Policy Act review process. It describes the transit project, explains the reasons for the decision and makes commitments regarding how the project will mitigate the impact on historic, cultural and environmental resources.

This achievement is also the culmination of years of work and collaboration between the city and its public and private-sector partners. In June of last year, the project's Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was released. The FEIS is a detailed disclosure of the public process, evaluations of alternatives and environmental analysis that the project team performed since the project's inception back in 2005. The FEIS and the Record of Decision will guide the development of the rail transit project.


For information on the rail project, see www.honolulutransit.org.

With the acceptance of the FEIS and the ROD, momentum for the project has been reestablished — the project is once again moving forward and residents can look forward to rail as a reliable and efficient transportation alternative.

The city will continue working with the Federal Transit Administration to make sure that the project and its financial plans are robust. Only by doing so will the FTA agree to fully fund the $1.55 billion, which the agency said it expects to contribute to the project.

Federal support for the rail project is strong: U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye has pledged his full support for the rail project, and just reiterated his support, adding that he will work to secure federal funding in Congress to ensure the project's timely completion. Two weeks ago, Mayor Peter Carlisle, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and I met with the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, U.S. Rep. John Mica. The Florida Republican is well aware of the Honolulu project and said he supports federal funding and implementation of Honolulu's rail transit. Mica noted Honolulu is geographically well suited for rail transit and needs to improve mobility for both residents and visitors.

The city has worked long and hard to bring the project to this important point. But there is still much work in the process that needs to be done, and the city is well aware of the remaining milestones it needs to achieve on the project schedule checklist. As has been the case to date, the city will deliberately and transparently move the project along in the right direction, with full concurrence from the FTA. The project will continue its long-established practice of holding community meetings to discuss everything from station design to construction impacts. Last year alone, the city conducted 165 presentations, workshops and meetings on the project, and participated in 149 neighborhood board meetings. Since the project began in 2005, our project team has conducted or participated in more than 900 meetings, presentations, updates and public hearings, and participated in an additional 483 neighborhood board meetings.

The city has already awarded some contracts for the project that have come in under budget. More contracts will be awarded this year, with an eye toward securing the best possible outcome for taxpayers.

The city plans to hold a ground-breaking ceremony for the project in the coming weeks. Soon, island residents will see the preparations for the beginning of the construction of the rail system. Workers will be busy relocating utilities, conducting soil tests and more. In the next several months the expectation is that hundreds of workers will be back on the job. These workers are our family, friends and neighbors who will take pride in building the transportation infrastructure that our island residents have asked for and voted for. And this will all be done with the awareness, sensitivity and respect that our aina deserves.

With the FTA's Record of Decision, the city has turned a critical corner in developing a long-overdue transportation alternative for Oahu's residents and visitors. It's a reason to celebrate, and a big step in moving this complex project forward. The city is committed to maintaining the momentum and keeping its rail transit project on track.

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