There appears to be one thing that people for and against rail seem to agree on: Oahu needs traffic alternatives.
One option being floated in the Legislature this session is toll roads. State Rep. Joe Souki’s House Bill 2153 passed out of the House and is now with the Senate.
The bill would authorize the state Department of Transportation to seek private companies to construct and operate toll roads. Before any agreement, a feasibility study would have to be conducted.
A similar bill passed out of the House in 2007 but died in the Senate. Souki fears his bill faces a fate like that one.
"A lot of people are afraid of something new," he says. "They think this is going to be an additional cost to them. I tried to allay their fears that it’s just a tool that someday DOT may use. There is nothing in the works for it at all."
Souki argues that the federal highway funds for Hawaii will diminish as more people drive smaller and more energy-efficient vehicles.
"Our tax revenue has dwindled, yet the density of people on the highway will continue to increase," he says. "For those in a hurry and wish to pay, it will make the existing highway faster."
Souki’s bill was met with opposition from the Hawaii Transportation Association, Building Industry Association and Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, who argue that it would be difficult to imagine toll roads reducing congestion.
"It would be a rational argument if there were other alternatives available to commuters in Hawaii aside from driving a car. However, in most areas in Hawaii, the motor vehicle is your only option," the Building Industry Association and Chamber said in their similarly written testimony.
The groups asked lawmakers for a "detailed explanation on how taxpayers’ funds were or are going to be used on the toll road, and how the new funds generated from the toll road will be used," otherwise it’s too early to consider the bill.
Souki acknowledges the bill faces an uphill battle. It has moved to the state Senate Transportation Committee, where the 2007 bill died.
But Souki says the discussion is worth having.
"If rail does pass, it would only take care of one route from Kapolei to the mall, and that’s it," he says. "Eventually the rail after many years will have connections all over, but that’s way in the future."
It makes me wonder how much of an uphill battle this might face, after recent media polls have indicated that rail could also face an upward struggle in the public’s perception.
And so goes the discussion over traffic alternatives. Everyone knows we need a workable alternative, but it’s hard to agree on one.
Reach Gene Park at email@example.com or Twitter as@GenePark.