Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann signed a bill Jan. 7 authorizing a locally preferred mass transit alternative that could begin partial operation by 2012 and cost more than $5 billion, making it the most expensive public works project in the state's history. The bill was passed by the City Council last month.


The exact alignment of the fixed guideway won't be decided upon until next month, but it is envisioned to run about 30 miles from Kapolei to the University of Hawaii-Manoa, along the island's southern coast. The city will choose a "minimal operating segment" next month, says Hannemann, adding that construction on the first six to 10-mile-long segment could begin in 2009 and be running by 2012. Construction of the entire 20 miles could be completed by 2017, he says.

The entire 30-mile journey, with a fixed guideway for rail, monorail, magnetic levitation, or rubber-tired buses, would be a "guaranteed" one-hour ride, regardless of traffic, says Toru Hamayasu, Honolulu's chief transportation engineer.

The city is preparing an application to proceed with preliminary engineering and an environmental impact statement to be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration in April. It will select a consulting firm by the end of summer and studies will be conducted using a "technology neutra" plan to keep the city's options open, says Hamayasu.

The EIS should take about two years, at which time they will begin looking for a contractor, says Hamayasu. The route will be almost totally elevated, says Mark Scheibe, project manager for the Honolulu office of Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, which performed the $9.7-million alternatives analysis study. "The vast majority of it will be within existing streets and the typical structure will be about 30 to 40 ft above the ground line."

PB didn't recommend placing tracks at grade because the corridors in Honolulu are very limited, says Scheibe. "There are no abandoned rail right-of-ways like you find in a lot of mainland cities and the street system is very limited, so we were forced into an elevated system to have the minimal disruption."

Scheibe says tunneling for the project was ruled out because of the island's "tricky soil," which consists of volcanic rock, coral and sand, and "differs foot by foot."

"Tunneling would have cost close to $1 billion more," says Hamayasu.

To help pay for the project, the city began collecting a half-percentage point surcharge on O'ahu's general excise tax on January 1. This is expected to raise about $164 million in its first year and $3 billion over the 15-year life of the tax. This is enough to fund about 20 miles of the project, says Bill Brennan, Honolulu spokesperson for the mayor's office. The city hopes to get the rest of the money to complete the entire 30 miles from federal funding.

Transportation officials predict that a proposed mass-transit system could account for more than 120,000 passengers a day by 2030.