BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – There was a whirlwind of press conferences yesterday, starting with Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, who from his campaign headquarters, attacked former Governor Ben Cayetano’s idea to bring back a 2003 plan for a Bus Rapid Transit System. (see a portion of the video here)
The plan, developed under former Mayor Jeremy Harris, and also approved by Cayetano when he was governor, would use express buses on express lanes to bring Ewa residents to and from Honolulu, Waikiki and the University of Hawaii-Manoa.
Ten years ago, the controversial part of the project was the in-town portion, which would have had the exclusive use of some traffic lanes in Waikiki and Kapiolani Boulevard, and these are already narrow and busy thoroughfares.
Cayetano suggests amending the route to include wider streets, such as King Street and Beretania Street.
Carlisle criticized Cayetano saying his plan will hurt small businesses along the route because they will lose parking and make traffic worse: “The truth is Cayetano rejected the very proposal he is now campaigning on-and for good reason, small businesses would be hurt, much-needed parking would be taken away. … The 2003 plan Cayetano approved flat-out rejected King and Beretania streets for consideration.”
But Cayetano said the lanes could be used before the businesses on those routes are even open. Cayetano maintains the rail will have a much bigger negative impact on small businesses along the route.
“What do you think this is going to do to traffic when you build it? It’s going to close this street and Bishop Street. How about that for an impact on business?” Cayetano said.
The city has already allocated $214 million for land condemnation along the route, which will include condemnation of small business properties, whereas Cayetano believes virtually no land condemnation will take place with the BRT.
Cayetano maintains the $10 million traffic study he supports, which was prepared under Harris, was tossed aside by Mayor Mufi Hannemann in 2004 because Hannemann wanted to build a steel rail system that cost five times the price.
Carlisle has continued Hannemann’s plan to construct the elevated steel on steel rail system on a 20-mile route from Kapiolei to Honolulu, but the price has increased from $3.7 billion to $5.3 billion.
Mayoral Candidate Kirk Caldwell decided he did not want to be left out of the discussion, and called a press conference after Carlisle and Cayetano. Caldwell criticized both his opponents.
“Today we heard Peter (Carlisle) talk about Ben’s Rapid Transit Plan. I don’t call it a plan I don’t call it a half-baked plan; I call it an unbaked plan. It’s really no plan at all.”
A rail supporter, Caldwell took aim at another of Cayetano’s suggestions to allow buses on the shoulder lane of some parts of the freeway.
“Ben says he’s going to use the shoulders of the freeway to run express buses at 55 miles an hour. We are talking about the edges of the freeway. We’re going to have buses travelling at 55 miles an hour on the shoulder of the freeway as cars get on the freeway, as cars get off the freeway. I’ll have to question how that’s going to work. To me that is an accident waiting to happen. Very, very disturbing. It’s about public safety. It won’t work I don’t really think he’s thought about how its going to work,” Caldwell said.
But Cayetano said it is an idea working in other states and should at least be studied.
On Carlisle’s plan to cut back on bus service in favor of the rail, Caldwell said: “I talked about building rail better. Part of building rail better is making our bus system serve rail better. What Peter is not taking about is one, as we take express buses off the long haul for rail, they should be redeployed out into our rural communities that are being impacted right now, today. Route 55, route 65, unilaterally just decided to pull back. We need to talk about how buses will be deployed there so that they can address those rural communities and make sure they get the service they deserve.”
Carlisle’s press conference was by far the most brief of the three. He read his brief attack on Cayetano’s BRT proposal from a one-page script, and then got up to leave the press conference that the called without taking questions.
When reporters pressed him for information about his traffic plan, he told them to read his column in the Star Advertiser from last Sunday. When reporters asked him to explain his transportation plan for the news cameras, he refused again. He then offered to read his editorial from the newspaper out loud another time, but would say nothing more than what was on his script.
Afterward, when another reporter approached the mayor to ask about the city budget, he also refused to answer saying he did not have his notes with him. The whole press conference lasted about 5 minutes, portions of which are on Hawaii Reporter TV.
A representative from Pacific Resource Partnership (PRP) then called to follow up with the media to try to direct the outcome of the news reports. PRP is a trade organization helping Carlisle, running “push polls” attempting to discredit Cayetano, and helping to coordinate a multi-million dollar advertising and promotional campaign to ensure the rail is built.
Cayetano spent about a half hour with reporters, answered all questions and reviewed renderings that show the impact of rail on the business and residential communities along the rail route.
Some of his renderings, which show the properties along the rail now, and after the rail is build, are included below.
HAWAII REPORTER’S JIM DOOLEY CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT