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A positive vision of transit

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A positive vision of transit

By Rep. Marilyn B. Lee

Majority floor leader in the state Legislature

So much of what you read in the press about the future of O'ahu's transportation system is negative. For a moment, let us imagine what our transportation system could look like.

Cars and the interstates will be the backbone of our island transportation system for the foreseeable future. Those who want to drive will be able to do so.

Trains (above ground in the country and underground in built-up areas) should be a part of our transportation future. The geography of O'ahu is ideally suited to rail. One train line running from Hawai'i Kai through downtown to Mililani would be immediately accessible to 163,000 people, over 20 percent of the island's population. An additional line from the H-1/H-2 split to Wai'anae would add another 10 percent, or over 97,000 residents.

Besides being able to carry a large number of people in a very small right-of-way, trains have one other enormous advantage: traffic does not affect them. This has two important implications. First, it means trains are fast. A train could run from Mililani to downtown in 30 minutes, including stops. Second, every passenger who takes the train frees up space on our roads.

Although a train would eliminate the need for many bus routes, buses should still be a part of the overall system. They would feed passengers into the rail system from our island's valleys and could serve more remote areas that do not warrant the expense of rail.

Ferries should be an integral part of our transportation system both between islands and between points on O'ahu. Double-hulled intra-island ferries reminiscent of Polynesian voyaging canoes could make the run from Barbers Point Harbor to Honolulu Harbor in 45 minutes and Waikiki in 50.

With an integrated transportation system, those who do not want to drive to work every day could get to their places of employment without a car and do it faster in many cases. But keep in mind, the goal of an integrated system is not to eliminate the use of cars. The goal is to get enough people off the roads to ensure that the roads are not being utilized at levels above designed capacity.

For an integrated system to work well, interconnectedness is vital. There have to be convenient connections between modes of transportation. Train stations will need parking lots. The train needs to go to the airport and the interisland ferry terminal. Buses need to stop at train stations.

Of course, an integrated transportation system, like any transportation system, will not be free. The governor's Transportation Task Force estimated that the light-rail system it proposed would cost $2.3 billion. Undergrounding through urban Honolulu (while not a technical challenge) would add significantly to the cost.

Once completed, an integrated system would cost millions to operate every year above and beyond fare receipts. However, to see whether spending this money makes sense, we have to look at how much other options cost. Even doing nothing has a quantifiable cost. The Texas Transportation Institute's 2003 Urban Mobility Study shows that Honolulu wastes $151 million a year due to congestion. This includes time lost and the cost of excess fuel burned off while sitting in traffic.

An all-highway solution, such as double-decking the H-1, would be very expensive and does not address street-level congestion. Condemning land to widen the H-1 would cost an arm and a leg.

If we make the right decisions and the investments today, O'ahu's transportation future can be bright. Sitting in traffic does not have to dominate our commuting lives.

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haha i know but instead of the "I" like I-90 or I-5 for interestates on the US Mainland the main highways in Honolulu start with an "H" like H-1, H-2, H-3 which are like our equivalent to interstates. Supposedly the inter-island ferry will be dubbed H-4 as people will be able to take their vehicles to other islands! :P

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