Lingle: rail not happening anytime soon

Governor Linda Lingle
Governor Linda Lingle
Sen. Daniel Inouye
Sen. Daniel Inouye

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu's rail project may have hit the skids - for now. Governor Linda Lingle says there's still a long way to go before she'll feel comfortable making a decision on rail.

"This is not going to happen anytime soon," the two-time governor says, "and perhaps not even while my term of office is still going on."

Lingle says rushing rail now may cause problems in the future. She's waiting for the city's environmental impact statement to cross her desk. It's still being reviewed by the state office of environmental quality control, and officials there are sifting through 13 thousand comments from the public. Lingle says an independent company was also hired to take a financial assessment of the viability of rail on Oahu.

Acting Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who is in favor of a rail system, says the state has never requested an independent financial assessment before and that would set a bad precedent - potentially slowing future projects.

The governor replies, "When you talk about precedent, that implies that there are many projects like this. There has never been a project like this. There will never be another project like this, likely."

But Hawaii's senior senator is pleading with the governor to take action now. He says the state can't afford to wait. "I am begging the governor, if everything is in line, please, for the sake of Hawaii, sign the paper. I'm on my knees. I am, really. And I'm not putting on a show, believe me. I don't want to go through this again."

Senator Inouye helped bring in more than one-and-a-half billion dollars in federal funding for the rail project and fears if the state snoozes, it loses. "My concern is, really, the1.55 billion is not really in the bank, unless we use it as soon as possible. Remember, we're still in an economic crunch, and furthermore, there are 49 other states with equal concerns."

Proponents say the environmental impact review has already been done, as have other financial studies. Despite the senator's pleas, the governor isn't biting. "I have a lot of respect for Senator Inouye. I think he's being a little dramatic saying he's on bended knee when he should know what the process is."

So, while the political tug-of-war continues, it's unclear where rail is actually headed in the months ahead.

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