City delays rail again, Governor worried about cost - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

City delays rail again, Governor worried about cost

By Tim Sakahara bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A fight is brewing between the state and City of Honolulu and it's over the rail transit project. The city announced today groundbreaking is delayed another couple months because the final environmental impact statement still isn't ready.

Meanwhile Governor Linda Lingle also expressed her concerns with the project. Her main concern is over the rail's five and a half billion dollar cost. She also says don't blame her for this latest delay because the city hasn't given her the final plan yet.

The governor and her panel of architects say they're on board with rail transit, they even like the steel on steel technology the city selected, but they want it done right. The analogy used is that the city is using a sledge hammer to swat a fly.

"I think we are building something too expensive for our population," said Scott Wilson, American Institute of Architects, Honolulu Transit Task Force Chair.

The American Institute of Architects compared the differences between the current heavy rail plans with their light rail proposal. Light rail, which runs in Portland and San Jose, can operate on the same level and share the same roads as cars. Heavy rail, like in Chicago and Washington DC, needs to be separated.

The architects say ground level light rail in certain sections of the route could save $1.8 billion in just the first phase, could be finished two years earlier and will cost less to operate and maintain. The group says it would take six months to study the alternative. The city says the timeline is more like years and would kill the project.

The governor said she spoke with the Federal Transit Administration last week. FTA officials told her they're wary about the city's financial plan if it takes money away from TheBus.

"It will require what he called a stronger financial plan from the city and I think they have the same financial concerns I have, not only to pay for the construction of it but to maintain it over the long term," said Governor Lingle.

The city declined to participate in the meeting but pro rail people were heard.

"The voters voted. We want this system. Let's get it on, we need the jobs," said Mel Kahele, Iron Workers Local 625 Union, during the meeting.

Upstairs construction workers rallied their support to build rail now and not delay the project, while city officials say Governor Lingle is misinformed.

"Really when you read her words she is saying I'm against rail. I want to kill it. I want to furlough rail. I furloughed the kids every other Friday, now I want to furlough rail," said Kirk Caldwell, City of Honolulu Managing Director.

The governor has to approve the project before it can proceed. If not it could cause delays or even stop the train.

"In order to get the sign off from the federal government and/or from me (the City) may have to make some adjustments not only to their alternatives but to their financing plan as well," said Governor Lingle.

"She's usurping the process and turning it into something else, a dog and pony show maybe where she is trying to make issues that are not relevant to this system. Why? Because she doesn't like the system," said Caldwell.

The city has delayed releasing the final environmental impact statement twice because questions are still being answered. Once finished it goes to the governor and federal government to approve.

Meanwhile Mayor Mufi Hannemann is in Washington DC this week meeting with federal officials about the rail.

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