HI: Rail Will Open With 10-Mile Route

SOURCE: The Honolulu Star - Advertiser

By Marcel Honore (03/28/2016)

March 28--Local rail officials have decided that for the opening of the transit system, they won't extend the route to Middle Street after all.

Instead, they've opted to stick with their planned, shorter opening route to Aloha Stadium -- a distance of 10 miles. Last summer the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation announced it would revisit the logic of that opening route and the "limited ridership" it would attract.

But as project delays have piled up, the idea of waiting to start service until Middle Street comes online has become less practical. Opening to Aloha Stadium remains the better option, HART Executive Director Dan Grabauskas said last week.

The opening should now occur sometime in late 2018, HART projects.

Service along the entire 20-mile line, from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, should now start in 2022, the rail agency estimates. The project is about two years behind schedule following lengthy delays from legal challenges, premature construction starts and other holdups.

Running trains to Middle Street would have added five miles and four more stations to the opening route, including service to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and Honolulu Airport.

"This configuration would connect our Westside residents to their 35,000-plus jobs at the airport and Hickam/Pearl Harbor as well as provide these residents access to the city's largest bus hub at Middle Street," HART board Chairman Don Horner and Grabauskas wrote in the Sept. 14 letter to Mayor Kirk Caldwell and City Council Chairman Ernie Martin that officially proposed the idea.

The letter stated that HART would "re-examine the cost-benefit and logic" of opening at Aloha Stadium.

On Thursday, however, Grabauskas said the latest construction delays mean the Middle Street section won't be ready until "months" prior to full completion in 2022.

"They're almost going to come on board at the same time," he said. "It would probably make more sense to just open the whole second 10 miles" at once.

Horner, however, said he hasn't given up the idea of providing at least some serv-ice to Middle Street before the full line is completed. HART could extend service there after the interim opening to Aloha Stadium -- if the move makes sense, he said.

Horner and Grabauskas floated the idea of including Middle Street in the initial opening in September, when they also informed city leaders the project was over budget more than HART had previously estimated -- by an additional $200 million.

It prompted some rail critics, including former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, to suggest that HART make Middle Street and not Ala Moana Center the end of the rail line, then create a bus rapid-transit system from that endpoint into town. Rail officials have said that's a nonstarter because HART has to build to Ala Moana Center under federal contract.

HART and city transit officials are planning a "very robust" bus service from Aloha Stadium into town once the rail line opens there, Grabauskas said.

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