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New Rail System for Honolulu

A new rail system for Honolulu.

Constructing a new rail system for Honolulu.

Sometime in 2020, the first increment of a 20 mile new rail system for Honolulu should be completed. Planners project the entire line costing over $5 billion will be in operation sometime in 2025. And when it is, it will span from east Kapolei to the Ala Moana Shopping Center near Waikiki. There have been numerous plans on the book to construct a rail system for Honolulu since the 1960s. But for one reason or another, many city administrations repeatedly started, scrapped and re-started the planning process.

An Overview of the Planning Process

But in 2011, efforts to actually begin constructing a rail system within the City and County of Honolulu finally began. Honolulu’s new mass transit development will be a light rail system, constructed off-grade on elevated rails. Upon completion, it will be the nation’s first driverless, fully automated rail system. Initially there will be 21 stations along the line. Increases in the county’s General Excise Tax, a hotel tax and the Federal government have funded the project.

Residents have approved a city charter amendment for the construction of the rail systems. Honolulu mayors have also consistently supported the rail. The project has survived numerous lawsuits opposing the project. Despite that, the building of a new rail system for Honolulu remains controversial. Many object to the rail. Some say it’s too expensive. Others say it’s aesthetically incongruous with the surrounding areas. While some say it’s not necessary or that there are better alternatives. Additionally, the fact that the project has suffered through numerous cost-overruns has not enhanced the project’s reputation.

Honolulu Traffic Congestion

Many may not realize these facts about Honolulu. A number of national traffic studies have identified Honolulu as having some of the worst traffic in the entire US. Oahu’s population of approximately 950,000 residents is not that large compared to the nation’s largest cities on the US mainland. But according to the latest US Census, Honolulu has the fourth highest adjusted population density in the entire US. Only New York, the Bay Area and Los Angeles metropolitan areas have higher densities. As a result, it’s no surprise that Honolulu’s traffic can be bad, particularly during the drive time rush hours.

The Proposed Routes

Once rail becomes operational, it will offer residents and tourists an efficient alternative to using a car or bus. The new rail system will stop at the airport. This will allow tourists to bypass some of the road gridlock as they travel to their hotels in the Waikiki. However, the rail line will initially end at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. As a result, tourists will still have to ride a bus, trolley or taxi from there into Waikiki. The train ride from Honolulu International Airport to the Ala Moana Shopping Center will take 16 minutes.

Fortunately, the Ala Moana Shopping Center is quite close to Waikiki. Pending availability of funding, there are plans to eventually expand the rail system into Waikiki. Once this happens, it will be easier for tourists to travel between the airport and their Waikiki hotels.

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