HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Putting rail at street level in the urban core could reduce costs and address delays, former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou said Tuesday at a mayoral forum.
The comments came after Djou was pressed for clarity on his rail platform, and prompted quick criticism from his opponents.
While Djou floated the idea, he also said that he would need to do more research on the rail project to determine what makes the most sense.
The debate Tuesday afternoon, hosted by several local Rotary Club chapters, was once again dominated by Oahu's beleaguered rail project.
Incumbent Mayor Kirk Caldwell and former city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, both supporters of the rail project, argue rail must be built to Ala Moana, though they have different approaches on how to fund it.
Djou, who is staunchly anti-rail, hasn't been clear how he'd handle rapid transit if elected.
But at the forum, he was pressed to firm up his position.
"We're going to fix this mess created by the Caldwell Administration," Djou said. "We're not going to raise any more taxes here. We're going to look at putting the system on the ground to save costs so we achieve a transit objective that gets us from the west side not just to Ala Moana but on to UH."
Djou said putting the system at grade, or on the ground, is a realistic solution to rising costs and delays.
But he couldn't say where the elevated guideway should end -- Aloha Stadium or Middle Street. The former Congressman said he would need to figure out the details once he reviewed more information.
"The first thing I'm going to do here is open up the books here to show the people what the heck is going on with this system," he said.
His opponents were quick to respond.
"Putting this thing on the ground is a disaster, and the reason is it's a disaster is it doesn't give you the objective that you want," Carlisle said. "You destroy the whole purpose of it. The whole idea is to have consistency."
Caldwell said bringing the rail project to street level would slow down travel times.
"It has to be fast, which means it can't be on the ground because if it's on the ground you can go no faster than the fastest car or bus and you got to stop at some of the intersections or you're going to create massive gridlock," he said. "Our train system will move somewhere between 650 and 800 people every five minutes in a four-car train. You can't do that at grade."
Honolulu rail officials, meanwhile, say dropping the rail to street level would require a different kind of train car. Right now, it's set to be a driverl-ess system, the first of its kind in the country.