As I sifted through the online news on Friday, I was delighted to see what looked as though it would be an exposé of Honolulu’s unfolding $9 billion train wreck, a commuter rail project. As a former Honolulu resident, I was sorely disappointed when I read the article in the Wall Street Journal. (The article is behind a paywall. To read it free, see the March 22 post on the TimeOut Honolulu Facebook page.)
Although the article correctly labeled the project a “debacle,” its authors (or their editor) left out the most critical point, namely that it has long been known — and even (quietly) admitted by its proponents — that when the project is completed it will have virtually zero impact on the highway congestion it is supposed to alleviate.
Yes, you read that right. Using inflated projections of ridership and low-ball cost estimates, rail boosters sold the project to the voters as a solution to a traffic nightmare. But years ago, long before I left Hawaii in 2013, the City and County of Honolulu, a succession of whose mayors have been the cheerleaders-in-chief of this misbegotten project, admitted that upon completion, the rail line would make barely a hair’s breadth of difference in relieving traffic congestion. They also admitted, again quietly, that only a few years after the project’s completion, traffic would actually be more congested than ever!
If the project won’t make a dent in the problem it’s intended to fix, why spend a nickel on it? Why spend $9 billion? Why should Honolulu keep skating toward bankruptcy?
Also, why deface the island’s beauty? Why further disrupt traffic to allow for rail’s construction? Why kill businesses — and the jobs they provide — that sit in rail’s path? Why desecrate — in the view of many Native Hawaiians — the burials of countless iwi kupuna (ancestral bones)? Why create false hope?
Books could be written — and no doubt will be — about this project. The story is long and complex, and I will not burden readers with an effort to even summarize it here. Interested readers can check out these links:
- Wikipedia’s extensive summary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honolulu_Rail_Transit
- Rail opponents’ website: honolulutraffic.com
- Another excellent opponent website: https://fixoahu.blogspot.com/search/label/HART
- The pro-rail website of HART, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation: honolulutransit.org
I closely followed this unfolding debacle for much of the time I lived in Honolulu, particularly after it gathered steam under Mayor Mufi Hannemann (2005-2010). On whom do I pin the blame?
- Construction unions, which worked assiduously not only to mislead voters and motivate supporters, but also to smear anti-rail mayoral candidate (and former governor) Ben Cayetano in 2012, when the project still could have been stopped, Honolulu taxpayers — i.e., every last resident — saved, and cheaper and effective traffic-reducing solutions adopted.
- Numerous large Hawaii businesses and real estate interests that stood to gain from “transit-oriented development” along rail’s route.
- Honolulu’s ill-informed voters, too many of whom fell for the pro-rail propaganda and the even more numerous apathetic citizens who didn’t bother to vote. (Hawaii has the nation’s worst voting record, with, in 2016, only 54.4 percent of eligible voters registered and 47.3 percent actually voting — see https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-580.html (table 4a). This allows special interests, e.g., construction unions, to motivate “their” voters and win elections with limited turnout.)
There’s a place in the lowest circle of hell reserved for those who hoodwinked the electorate and foisted this abomination on the people of Honolulu.