Rail tax bill clears Senate Ways & Means committee
An 11th hour call to bring rail down to street level has lawmakers wanting to know if it’s possible.
HONOLULU - An 11th hour call to bring rail down to street level has lawmakers wanting to know if it’s possible.
Salvage the Rail is a group of planners and architects that believes the city can save up to $4 billion and complete the project sooner. It just has to modify the rail cars and add drivers.
It thinks the street level plan could also bring commuters closer into downtown.
"The at-grade lines would run thorough and around the areas of Honolulu where people live and work. It has the makings of a real transit system easily accessible from city sidewalks,” said Salvage the Rail’s Scott Wilson.
But HART cautioned that any change in the route and technology at this stage would jeopardize the project. Rail officials said the end result would be a slower train and possibly fewer riders. The city wouldn’t also be able to provide the financial recovery plan in April, as required by the Federal Transit Authority.
"You need to keep in mind, with the new administration we still do not know their support, or lack of support to transit in general. Here we already have a project supported by the federal government. If we stick to the terms, we are better off in getting it moving forward," HART Interim CEO Krishniah Murthy.
Murthy said after meeting with FTA officials, he believes Hawaii's best option is to build the project as planned. Doing otherwise, may kill the project.
“It affects the number of people it can carry and with that comes the lawsuits and the Environmental Impact Statement. It basically means rail is dead,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
That is not an option for many commuters from the west side. Many sat in a traffic jam for hours yet again, Monday morning. The mayor wants to make half percent hike in the excise tax permanent. Several residents testified against it.
Many worried that operational and maintenance costs could drive the price tag over $10 billion. Lawmakers are considering how to soften the blow to low income residents.
The Senate money committee favors eliminating the ten percent state skim off the rail tax, in lieu of a forever tax. There is a critical two-month deadline looming, and lawmakers are quickly running out of time.