HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As rail officials continue to develop plans for the Ala Moana station, they're being challenged to think ahead about how the rail line can reach UH Manoa.
The Ala Moana station is planned to be built along Kona Street between Piikoi and Kona Iki Streets. It's also expected to be the busiest stop along the guideway.
Officials with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) say they are focused on building the 20-mile rail system from West Oahu to Ala Moana, and they don't have the ability to develop plans for extensions of the rail line.
"The goal for us at the present moment is to locate the Ala Moana station in such a way so we're not precluding options to get out of that station. So we don't essentially want to be dead-ended at Ala Moana," said Abbey Mayer, HART's Director of Planning, Permitting, and Right-of-Way.
But some councilmembers argue in 2008, the voters were promised a different rail route.
"When the people voted on this whole project, it was with knowledge that the train would go all the way to UH. Now it's just like this forgotten thing," said Honolulu City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi.
When pushed by city councilmembers Tuesday in a planning committee hearing, HART gave several ideas to get the rail line to UH, including one that would require passengers to get off the train at the Ala Moana station.
"It would be a transfer to Ala Moana to a new system. So an elevator ride up 8 or 9 stories and then a transfer to a new system," said Mayer.
HART says it prefers UH passengers not having to change trains, and that there are several options that could provide a one-seat ride.
"When we leave Ala Moana station, we could go straight down Kona Street, we could veer right into Ala Moana Center, or we could veer left," Mayer said.
But if the guideway veered left from Ala Moana station to get to UH, councilmembers worry it could kill a development project that is expected to provide about 310 affordable housing units.
"This whole thing is so unfair to a developer who wants to put up affordable housing," said Kobayashi.
"This system is going to deliver tens of thousands of people every day to General Growth's (Ala Moana Center) doorstep. I would rather condemn General Growth property if I were given a preference," said Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson.
HART says another option would be to have a branch line to UH from Kakaako, but officials reminded councilmembers these options are still conceptual ideas at this point.
"Any such option that we may propose would impact somebody and without having an approved plan and having gone through the planning process in terms of looking at alternatives, analysis, environmental impacts, I think it's really not a good thing for the agency to do to start talking about potential plans at this point," said Andrew Robbins, HART's CEO and executive director.
HART is expected to be back at city council next month to provide more details about these options to get the rail line to UH Manoa.