The board that oversees the Honolulu rail project voted Friday to ask the Honolulu City Council for the power to lay the groundwork to extend the rail line beyond its currently planned Ala Moana Center terminal.

The move is meant to ensure that the rail line, if officials decide to go farther, has a viable route beyond its planned end point, said Andrew Robbins, executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. Robbins stressed there is no current plan to take the $9 billion project beyond Ala Moana.

“Right now we’re just trying to get out of this box and make sure we have a potential path,” Robbins said.

Andrew Robbins, executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, said HART wants to ensure it is not boxed in with no chance to expand. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat

Current funding for the 20-mile line calls for the elevated train to run from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center. However, a plan approved by the City Council in 2007 has never been amended and still calls for a more ambitious project: a line that extends to the University of Hawaii Manoa, with a separate branch running to the western edge of Waikiki. That plan is known as the “locally preferred alternative.”

The problem is the extended route is supposed to go down Kona Street, a smaller lane that runs parallel to Kapiolani Boulevard amid Ala Moana Center’s ever-growing maze of buildings, parking decks and bridges. That route, Robbins said, is no longer viable.

HART thus needs to come up with alternative pathways and may need to acquire land to make sure that the line has a clear corridor beyond Ala Moana in case it wants to expand, he said.

The Honolulu rail line’s original pathway east of the Ala Moana Center terminal, shown in pink, is no longer viable, so HART wants to find and secure a new path to ensure rail can expand in the future. Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation

After a staff presentation Friday, Robbins told reporters that HART is considering multiple routes but declined to provide specific draft plans. He did say one possible route would go down Kapiolani Boulevard.

Robbins also stressed that the area under study was within a half mile of Ala Moana Center and did not include the entire preferred alternative route to Manoa.

The agenda for Friday’s HART board meeting suggested the agency was planning a more expansive request to the City Council concerning the preferred alternative route. The agenda indicated staff wanted the council’s blessing to “Conduct Planning and Engineering Activities, and Acquire the Right-of-Way to Allow the Development of the Locally Preferred Alternative at a Future Date.”

In the end, the HART board more clearly defined the scope of what it’s asking the council. Following a closed door meeting with their attorney, board members approved a revised request to the council specifying that HART would be looking at planning, engineering and land acquisition within a half-mile radius of the planned Ala Moana terminal.

Although the item before the HART board appeared to ask the City Council to give HART the authority to acquire rights of way to secure a pathway for the train, Robbins said any actual land acquisition would have to be approved separately by the City Council and the Federal Transit Administration.

An original agenda item said HART wanted to examine the Locally Preferred Alternative route, part of which is shown in pink, which extends to UH Manoa and Waikiki. The measure passed by the board Friday specified HART would look only at an area within a half-mile of the Ala Moana station. Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation

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