Wall Street Journal Swings and Misses on Hawaii’s Big Story

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:

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?

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.

2 replies
  1. Howard Daniel
    Howard Daniel says:

    Reposting here a March 24 comment about this item from Randall Roth (https://www.law.hawaii.edu/personnel/roth/randall) on Facebook: “This brief analysis is spot-on: ‘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.’ ” Thank you, Prof. Roth.

    Reply
  2. Howard Daniel
    Howard Daniel says:

    Reposting another Facebook comment about this item, this one on March 25 from Kitty Yannone, CEO of CommPac, Hawaii’s leading public relations consultancy: “The best summary of the rail debacle I’ve seen! This is written by my friend and former colleague Howard Daniel. It is worth reading.” Mahalo, Kitty!

    Reply

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