Oahu to get federal funding for rail line

By Danny King
Honolulu Rail MapHawaii is slated to get its first transit-rail system after the Department of Transportation and local authorities signed an agreement to provide $1.55 billion in federal funds for a rail line on Oahu, in an effort to ease the island’s vehicle traffic.

The 20-mile rail line, which is scheduled to be fully operational by 2019, will have 21 stations, starting at Kapolei on the west and making its way to Ala Moana Center near Waikiki on the east, with stops at Aloha Stadium, Pearl Harbor Naval Base and Honolulu Airport in between.

Including state and local funding, the rail line, which would be accessible to about 70% of Oahu’s residents, will cost $5.1 billion.

The rail line will likely provide relief to tourists and locals alike, as Honolulu is home to some of the most expensive gas prices and some of the worst traffic in the country.

The city was judged as having the worst traffic of any major U.S. metropolitan area, according to a May report from traffic information provider Inrix. Honolulu beat Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York for that dubious distinction.

“This historic project will cut commute times west of the city by more than 30 minutes each way, drastically improving the quality of life for residents who want to spend less time in their cars, more time with their families and enjoy cleaner air,” Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff said in a statement.

The system will serve about 116,000 riders each weekday, according to Jeanne Mariani-Belding, spokeswoman for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. That’s about a third of the weekday ridership of San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

In addition to the island’s 950,000-plus residents, the system will serve a steadily growing visitor base.

About two-thirds of the 7.3 million overnight visitors to Hawaii in 2011 came through Oahu, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The state’s annual visitor count by air rose 3.7% from 2010 and was up 14% from a decade earlier.

The rail project could conceivably aid Waikiki-bound visitors, who could take the train from the airport to the Ala Moana Center, which is within a short cab ride to Honolulu’s major tourist hub.

The rail funding was announced on Dec. 19, two days after the death of Daniel Inouye, the Hawaii senior senator long regarded for his advocacy of the state’s tourism industry during his 50-year Senate tenure.
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