From tunnels to trains, Oahu must look forward
Early in the 1950s, Kailua town was experiencing rapid growth as a suburb of Honolulu. The narrow and hazardous route over Nuuanu Pali was excruciatingly slow during commuting hours. A decision was made to build a new four-lane highway requiring four tunnels through the Pali cliffs. This costly use of taxpayer dollars for the primary benefit of Windward Oahu residents was never put to a vote by all of Oahu's citizens. Had such a vote been taken at the time, the issue might well have failed.
Before the first two Pali bores entered service in May 1957, city leaders decided another four-lane highway was needed across the Koolau Range to better serve fast-growing Kaneohe and villages to the north. The Likelike Highway and its Wilson Tunnels were opened in 1960. Again, this costly use of taxpayer dollars for the primary benefit of Windward Oahu residents was never put before all Oahu voters. Had such a vote been taken, this issue probably would have failed also.
By the mid-1960s, Henry Kaiser's ambitious plans for a large new bedroom community named Hawaii Kai called for improved traffic capacity serving East Honolulu. The freeway was extended east from the University District to a costly six-lane viaduct bypassing Kahala center in the late 1960s. Since then, Kalanianaole Highway has seen continuous upgrades to the six-lane thoroughfare extending all the way to Hawaii Kai today. Nor was this costly use of taxpayer dollars for the primary benefit of East Honolulu residents ever put to a vote of all of Oahu's citizens. Had such been done, this issue too would likely have failed at the ballot box.
Today, Oahu's largest-ever constellation of new communities and a new university are being developed on the broad Ewa Plain, presenting critical new mobility challenges requiring effective long-range solutions. The state-of-the-art, steel-rail-based mass transit technology envisioned by Honolulu's executive leadership is a 21st-century solution now being actively adopted in more than 150 congested cities around the world. This is a mature, well-proven and constantly evolving technology. No technology offers a lower coefficient of friction and resulting economy of operation than steel wheels on steel rails. Energy is required only to propel the vehicles, not also to levitate and guide them, and that energy will have alternative sources.
Would our island be better off today without the Koolau tunnels, the Kahala Viaduct and other such taxpayer-funded mobility improvements built during the past 50 years by our elected representatives to satisfy valid regional needs?
Would our island be better off 20 years from now without a modern, efficient mass transit facility extending to Leeward Oahu, as now planned?
If your opinion would be NO to both of these questions, then you have no reason to want the steel-on-steel technology question added to Oahu's November ballot, and you have no reason to vote against this technology should it appear on any future ballot.
Richard Berry logged 10,000 miles on railways during a recent trip around the world. A retired transportation professional and global air-freight industry consultant, he lives in Honolulu.