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Kobayashi asks why city needs a rail system

By Leila Fujimori

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 10:37 p.m. HST, Feb 28, 2011


CORRECTION

» City officials have never said they would use general fund revenues to pay for Honolulu's rail transit project since doing so would violate a city ordinance. President Barack Obama's $250 million fiscal 2012 budget request for the project is only one of several federal appropriations the city is seeking. The article below incorrectly reported that the city would use general fund revenues, and it implied that only $250 million of the $1.55 billion total federal funds sought will be budgeted for the project. Also, City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said the city has "already spent $120 million" in the transit fund, not $120,000 as she was misquoted as saying. And the Federal Transit Administration must approve the city's financial plan. The story gave an incorrect name for the agency.

 

Most if not all Manoa residents attending yesterday's town hall meeting applauded Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi yesterday as she railed against rail.

"Why do we need a train on this island?" she asked, noting the city faces a $100 million shortfall.

"The biggest source of revenue is property taxes," she said. "I'd hate to see us raise property taxes."

Kobayashi's objections to the $5.5 billion rail system resonated with the 35-plus in attendance yesterday morning at a state-city legislative briefing at Noelani Elementary School. Many of those attending were property owners and expressed their anti-rail sentiments.

"I can't believe our new mayor is behind this," said Andrew Ghali, adding that the city should instead spend money to alleviate traffic chokepoints, which have remained in the same places for years.

A woman asked why Mayor Peter Carlisle, who wants to reduce the city's borrowing, would be in favor of the project.

In July, the city said it would use general fund revenues including property taxes to help pay for the Kapolei-to-Ala Moana project. In the past the city said it would pay for the project with $3.7 billion from the general excise tax surcharge, plus $1.55 billion in federal funds and $300 million in federal money diverted from TheBus and Handi-Van.

But only $250 million of the $1.55 billion in federal funding the city is seeking was budgeted by President Barack Obama for Honolulu's rail system in his $1.3 billion request for transit projects nationwide.

Ghali said the general excise tax surcharge is never going to cover operational costs.

Thalya DeMott said, "Thank goodness the money will run out before they ruin the view here."

Kobayashi said city transportation officials haven't been able to provide answers on how much is left in the transit fund.

"They've already spent $120,000," she said.

Kobayashi said she has also encountered problems trying to get actual costs projected for the system.

She said only $90 million has been set aside for condemnation costs, not to mention the cost of the removal of iwi — ancient native Hawaiian bones.

Kobayashi said the project was rammed down people's throats. At community meetings, people presenting alternatives to rail had the microphone taken away from them, she said.

And she questioned how rapid the transit would be, with 21 stops over 20 miles.

"How fast are people going to go?"

Kobayashi said a fixed guideway with buses would be cheaper, more effective and one-third as expensive, and would eliminate the need for space-consuming park-and-ride lots.

Kobayashi also questioned the logic of starting the rail line with the Kapolei-to-Waipahu leg, asking how many people need to travel to and from those points, and said that if the money runs out there will be a useless section of rail.

"It's not a done deal," she told the audience. "We have to show we can pay for it."

The Federal Transit Authority must approve the city's financial plans. If it fails to do so, a fixed guideway idea could be an alternate solution, Kobayashi said.

But otherwise the city must stick with a steel wheels on steel rail system.

Kobayashi said she introduced on Feb. 11 Council Resolution 11-064, urging the administration to consider light rail, a cheaper alternative to heavy steel rail that does not require as much space.






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