Monday, October 5, 2015         

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Group urges Lingle to clear rail transit

By Gene Park


An organization of religious and community leaders yesterday called on Gov. Linda Lingle to give rail transit the green light.

Members of Faith Action for Community Equity Hawaii, or FACE, said they echo U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's plea for the governor to approve an environmental study and thus ensure federal funding for the rail transit project.

Delays could affect the estimated 125,838 jobs the project could create, according to a study commissioned by the Transportation Equity Network, of which FACE Hawaii is a member.

"Frustration aside, this is for the good of the state, and she (Lingle) should stop playing politics with it, I think," said Drew Astolfi, FACE state director.

Lingle's administration awarded a contract yesterday to conduct an economic analysis of the rail transit project.

"As much as I am being urged to immediately sign the EIS document, I cannot responsibly do so until we have performed the due diligence to make certain Hawaii can afford this multibillion-dollar project over the long term," Lingle said yesterday.

The Transportation Equity Network's report, researched and written by public policy research center at University of Missouri at St. Louis, looked at six rail projects now in progress. Honolulu's was the largest rail-only project, at $5.29 billion. Denver has a $6.9 billion rail and bus rapid transit project.

St. Paul, Minn., is building a $957 million light rail system to connect to Minneapolis, the study states.

A Portland, Ore., light rail project is expected to cost about $1.5 billion, and will link Milwaukie and Oak Grove, towns about 25 miles away.

"There's huge competition for federal money," said one of the study's authors, Todd Swanstrom of the University of Missouri.

Swanstrom said that in light of all the other projects, it's "quite something" that Honolulu secured an initial $55 million in federal funds through the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program.

"Compared to St. Louis where population density is relatively low, (Honolulu's rail transit) should be viable," he said. "The transit should have decent ridership because there's a high concentration of residential and employment (along the route)."

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