BY JIM DOOLEY – Honolulu mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano presented his alternative–to-rail transportation
plan today, saying the mix of expanded bus service, a two-mile extension of the airport highway viaduct, traffic underpasses beneath congested intersections and other features will cost $4.1 billion less than the planned elevated rail line.
Cayetano and his traffic advisor, UH engineering professor Panos Prevedouros, said all the improvements could be in place in about four years and would do far more to reduce island-wide traffic congestion than the 20-mile rail line.
Cayetano’s opponent in the mayoral election, Kirk Caldwell, had no immediate reaction to the new proposal, although he has criticized portions of it before.
Mayor Peter Carlisle and City Council chairman Ernie Martin said in a news conference this afternoon that Cayetano’s plan would cost the city $1.55 billion inf federal rail funding (see related story).
Cayetano, a former Hawaii governor, said his plan has the benefit of flexibility, with many components capable of adjustment or elimination depending on their effectiveness.
“Rail is so rigid and inflexible,” Cayetano said.
Highlights of Cayetano’s transporation plan, called FAST (Flexible Affordable Smart Transportation), included:
- Expanded express bus service serving Leeward and Central Oahu. He also proposed another express line running between the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus, with Hawaii Pacific University in downtown Honolulu and Honolulu Community College on Dillingham Bolevard.
- Added traffic lanes on King Street and Dillingham. Prevedouros said the expansions to six lanes could be accomplished by removing “barriers” that now reduce some sections of the roads to four lanes.
- Rush hour contraflow lanes on King Street and Dillingham. Dedicating lanes to bus service is also being proposed.
- Extending the airport highway viaduct by two miles to the Iwilei and downtown sections of Honolulu. Cayetano said the project has been proposed by the state in the past and is “ready to go.”
- Digging of new traffic underpasses beneath intersections that are now traffic chokepoints.
- Improving traffic signal synchronization and incorporating new “21st century ttraffic management systems.”
Cayetano and Prevedouros said traffic improvements could be felt “within six months” and the new system would benefit neighborhoods throughout the island.
He said the total cost of the project would be $1.1 billion – to be borne by the city, state and federal government.
A price breakdown of the individual components of the plan is being finalized, Prevedouros said.
The city’s share of the $5.2 billion rail line is being financed by an increase of the state’s general excise tax, assessed only on Oahu.
More than $900 million has already been collected and Cayetano said cancelling the rail project and adopting his plan could mean eliminating the excise tax surcharge now levied on Oahu.
Or portions of those extra tax revnues could be redirected to other pressing Honolulu infrastructure needs, including rehabilitation Oahu’s water and sewer lines.
Critics of Cayetano’s anti-rail plans have argued in the past that rededication of excise tax revenues would violate state laws and county ordinances.
Cayetano asserted again today that federal officials, who have solidly backed the rail project, “should be happy” with his new proposal because it is so much less expensive than the rail project.
But rail supporters, including Caldwell, have argued if the rail project is dropped, federal officials would be very reluctant to commit new financing to yet another transportation plan for Honolulu.
Cayetano’s plan can be viewed here