J.Kalani English

$350M rail route would link airport

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Saturday, May 24, 2008

RAIL PLAN

The mayor says state funds could pay for the route; state officials say that is unlikely

STORY SUMMARY »

The city is proposing to add a 2.1-mile segment to the proposed rail transit system, pushing the overall price tag over $4 billion, according to Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

The spur would connect Ala Moana Center and Honolulu Airport and would be separate from the 20-mile route planned from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center that goes through Salt Lake and bypasses the airport.

The spur would cost about $350 million and complement the $3.7 billion main rail route, Hannemann said yesterday.

The city said the new segment could be paid for through the 10 percent the state withholds for collecting the 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge to fund mass transit, as well as the state Department of Transportation's airport fund. But state Transportation Director Brennon Morioka said use of the airport fund to fund rail transit is unlikely.

FULL STORY »

By Alexandre Da Silva
adasilva@starbulletin.com

People would be able to take a 17-minute rail ride between Ala Moana Center and Honolulu Airport under a new 2.1-mile route that would push the price of the city's mass transit system above $4 billion, according to Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

The spur would cost about $350 million and complement a $3.7 billion, 20-mile route planned from Kapolei to Ala Moana that goes through Salt Lake and bypasses the airport, Hannemann said yesterday.

The city said the airport segment could be paid for through the 10 percent the state withholds for collecting the 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge to fund mass transit, as well as the state Department of Transportation's airport fund.

"We have a plan, and all we need now is a commitment of funding; but that doesn't have to come today, next year or the following year," Hannemann said.

But state Transportation Director Brennon Morioka said use of the airport fund is unlikely. Although he called the mayor's initiative "a very good step" toward creating an airport route, Morioka warned the airport fund is already supporting a 12-year, $2.3 billion plan to modernize isle airports with more parking, open-air lobbies and streamlined security and baggage claim.

So it is unlikely the current airport funds of less than $300 million would be tapped for anything besides core airport operations and maintenance, he said.

"A diversion of these funds ... would create some problems," Morioka said.

Meanwhile, the half-percentage-point excise tax surcharge on Oahu has yielded $192.9 million as of March since it kicked in January 2007, said Titin Sakata, special assistant to state Tax Director Kurt Kawafuchi. She said the Legislature has appropriated the department $900,000 for fiscal year 2008 and $700,000 for fiscal year 2009 to collect the tax.

She said any leftover money goes to the state's general fund.

Maui state Sen. J. Kalani English, chairman of the Transportation and International Affairs Committee, praised Hannemann for "thinking outside the box" in trying to finance an airport rail station. However, he said because the city agreed to let the state keep 10 percent of the transit tax for administrative expenses, those funds should not go for an airport hub.

"That was part of the deal. If the city finds the funding within their budget, I think it's a great idea," said English, who noted he would pick rail over taxis after flying to Oahu to work at the Capitol if that were available.

But City Council Transportation Chairman Nestor Garcia, a strong proponent of an airport station, said some of the tax funds withheld should be considered for an airport route.

"I welcome the chance to get to the airport, which many of us on the Council had wanted in the first place," he said.

The Council voted 5-4 in 2006 to align the transit system through Salt Lake instead of the airport. Councilman Romy Cachola, a key player in that narrow decision, said he would support the airport link as long it did not threaten the Salt Lake line.

A message seeking comment from Gov. Linda Lingle was not immediately returned yesterday.

The city said the airport leg would have trains departing every 15 minutes as a commute option for some 7,000 people who work at the airport with 58,000 daily arrivals and departures. Hannemann also said it would likely be used by residents who live outside the system's routes.

Transit ticket prices would be the same as fares for TheBus and TheBoat, Hannemann said.

The proposed spur would connect the airport to a station near Ala Moana's Nordstrom store, and riders would be able to board trolleys, taxis and buses to Waikiki, officials said. A 1,000-vehicle city parking garage is also planned for the mall's transit center.

Dwight Yoshimura, senior vice president with General Growth, which owns Ala Moana Center, said the company would work with the city if the airport plan materializes.

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