City: Shortened rail route threatens transit development

City: Shortened rail route threatens transit development

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - City officials say shortening the rail route to save money could cost jobs and foul up plans for affordable housing and new businesses along the transit route.

"TOD (transit-oriented development) is a critical, critical part of rail," said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

"We are a small island with a million people. There's not a lot of places for us to live anymore. And for me it's about living in a more vertical way in a more dense pattern, but better through rail."

If the rail route stops at Middle Street, as has been discussed, officials say it will result in the loss of about 15,000 housing units in and around stations that would be eliminated in Kalihi, Kakaako and Ala Moana.

Harrison Rue, community building and transit-oriented development administrator for the city, said that "the system really works best for supporting affordable and workforce housing in the right place so people have reliable options to get to work and other places they need to go, if it goes all the way."

Calls to shorten the rail route have grown louder in the last few weeks, since a federal assessment of the project estimated the total price tag for the project at $8.1 billion -- exceeding Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation's latest figure by more than $1 billion.

Earlier this week, the City Council capped the rail budget at $6.8 billion, and called on rail officials to find creative alternatives to bring down costs.

Rue and others say not building the route to Ala Moana wouldn't just impact housing developments at the stations that aren't built. It could also limit housing construction in outlying areas where stations have gone up, if developers worry there won't be a reliable, quick ride into town.

"Forty percent of Honolulu's jobs are along the system right now -- within half a mile to a mile of the stations. That's second only to New York City. There's no other rail in the country being built that has even half that many," Rue said.

Despite the $1.4 billion projected budget shortfall under current estimates, Caldwell still hopes all 20 miles and 21 stations will be built.

"It's all about how do we live better in our urban core. Keep our footprint small. Don't use more of our lands that are in ag or fallow for development or housing, build it where it's already zoned urban or planned for urban development -- and that is TOD," Caldwell said.

Transit-oriented development has been a top priority for officials since the city first started strategizing about how to maximize the station space that would be cleared for rail.

"We are working so hard through TOD to incentivize the private sector to build true, true affordable housing at the 80 and 60 percent AMI (average median income) level. Without rail that doesn't happen, and that is one of my big concerns," Caldwell said.

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