It’s not too late to save city from rail disaster
There is a great deal of opposition to Mayor Mufi Hannemann's rail transit proposal. Many groups and individuals have come forward with supporting evidence that we cannot afford the rail and that the ridership will not be significant. While it isn't easy to concede that your favored option might not be the best one, for the sake of Oahu's taxpayers it is imperative that the mayor and City Council re-examine all transportation solutions.
Other options are more viable, such as the reversible elevated tollway recently completed in Tampa, Fla. That 10-mile, three-lane system was built with public and private funds for less than $450 million, and yet the City and County of Honolulu says it would cost $2.5 billion to replicate it in Honolulu. The mayor says tolls would be $8 here, not affordable for our drivers. Where did the city get those figures? In Tampa the drivers are paying $1 now and will pay $1.50 next year.
The City Council recently expressed its desire to build the full 28-mile transit system estimated to cost $6 billion. This would be the most costly public works project in the history of our state. When you add in the costs to purchase private properties to accommodate the rail's rights-of-way and create sufficient parking lots at rail stations, the price could easily grow to $8 billion. With Oahu's current population of 980,000 people, every man, women and child will have to pay $8,000 in taxes to build the rail system. The rail project goes against everything that the city administration promised in regard to fiscal responsibility; do we need it, can we afford it and can we maintain it? No.
The Council doesn't have to guess at trends in commuting or performance of rail transit systems; an abundance of data is available to anyone who cares to read it. The U.S. Census data for journey-to-work trips nationally from 1960 to 2000 shows that people traveling by car grew from 64 percent to 87.9 while the public transit sector declined from 12.1 percent to 4.7 percent. Figures for the 15 metropolitan areas that invested millions of dollars in new rail transit projects from 1980 to 2000 all showed declining numbers of riders except for San Diego, which increased from 3.3 percent in 1980 to 3.4 in 2000.
Oahu's transportation problem is traffic congestion, not the absence of a rail system. We need something that will address this problem as quickly as possible. Tampa's latest reversible tollway was built in a little more than three years; the mayor's proposed rail built out to 28 miles will take 20 years and do little to alleviate traffic congestion. In fact, during construction it will only make things worse.
The taxpayers on Oahu should have the opportunity to vote up or down on this project. Contrary to what we hear coming from City Hall, there is not a plurality of support coming from elected officials and the general public. When the bill that allowed the city to tack on an additional half-percent to our gross excise tax was voted on in the Legislature, one-third of the House members voted "no" and one-fourth of the Senate was against it. The Council is split, with two members opposed to the rail transit project, and a recent city survey revealed that 53 percent of the public said they would not use the rail.
The city is dangerously close to making its final decision on what transit solution will move forward. If it does give rail transit the nod, the future of commuting on Oahu will only get worse. Motorists will suffer. Taxpayers will suffer. Simply put, it would be a great disservice to the public.
I urge readers to contact their Council members and make their feelings known. If they give the thumbs up to rail it would be a great disservice to the public. Honolulu will have an $8 billion white elephant to operate and maintain.
Republican Rep. Colleen Meyer represents the 47th District (Laie-Kahaluu) in the state House of Representatives.