Planes, meet trains — The airport’s transit station will be a boon for fliers, officials say

(Via Star Advertiser)

Oahu’s future rail transit system will wind its way through the middle of Honolulu Airport — dropping off and picking up thousands of passengers and airport workers at a central station there, newly unveiled designs reveal.

The rail stop will be tucked between the airport’s international and overseas parking structures and the lei stands, with bridge walkways to both parking garages. Officials overseeing the rail project estimate about 15,000 passengers will eventually board trains there each day, which would make it one of the rail line’s busiest.

Rail proponents joined Mayor Kirk Caldwell and other island leaders Wednesday to tout the project as a reliable alternative for airline passengers aiming to ensure they catch flights on time without worrying about traffic on H-1 freeway, Nimitz Highway or other major roadways.

“They know they’re going to arrive at the airport quickly, reliably and on time — with their luggage,” Caldwell said. The city will further ensure that passengers can bring their luggage on TheBus just as they would on the rail line, Department of Transportation Services Director Mike Formby added.

About 20,000 airport employees could also consider using the station to get to work instead of driving, officials said.

The 20-mile, 21-station elevated rail line will run from an area east of Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, stopping short of Honolulu’s main tourist destination: Waikiki.

Nonetheless, city transit officials assert that a new plan to circulate more buses through Waikiki and back to Ala Moana will help make rail viable for many of the more than 200,000 visitors on Oahu on any given day.

In the meantime, visitors to the airport will have to deal with heightened construction work there.

Crews are expected to break ground on the airport rail station in 2015 and finish it in late 2017, but the state already broke ground last year on a $739 million renovation of the airport.

That project, also slated to wrap in 2017, involves building a new rental car facility near the airport station site.

Airline passengers are already coping with more limited, crowded parking options since the rental car companies are taking half of the overseas parking terminal’s 2,000 spaces throughout the airport renovation.

Rail officials are “very closely coordinating” with state transportation officials to try to ensure they’re not building at the same time, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director Dan Grabauskas said Wednesday.

HART finalized the airport station site last summer, but it waited until the design work was ready before announcing its location and layout, agency spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding said Wednesday.

Rail officials previously had considered a rail route that would have run through Salt Lake instead of the airport. However, the project’s 2010 environmental impact statement found the airport route would result in slightly more daily transit trips on Oahu than the Salt Lake alternative would — about 273,000 trips compared to 270,000.

The airport route would also feed key employment centers at Pearl Harbor and the airport, the EIS stated.

The 2010 report also found that the Salt Lake route would have made the project less expensive to build by more than $200 million, in 2008 dollars.

In 2011, former Honolulu City Councilman Romy Cachola voiced dismay at the rail route being moved out of his Salt Lake district and through the airport, and he accused the city’s former top transportation official of misleading the public in favor of a more expensive route. The public, Cachola said, voted on the project with the understanding that it would go through Salt Lake.

The EIS stated that more than 75 percent of the public comments received on those routes favored the airport alternative, and the City Council eventually passed a resolution to pursue that route.

“It’s very important as sort of the face of our project for the many people who come to visit,” Grabauskas said Wednesday.

“I think the station is going to be bringing a lot more to the airport experience,” Caldwell added.

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