As rail gets real, more concerns emerge


POSTED: Sunday, June 14, 2009

As we continue to think about and discuss our future in Hawaii, this letter echoes our concerns about the planning, design and construction of the Locally Preferred Alternative. This letter is neither for nor against transit; rather it addresses concern and requests greater transparency in the process.

Some form of transit has surfaced every decade since we were alive — who can blame us for either being indifferent to the thought of implementation or so anxious and impatient we don't care how it is executed. For us, the approximate $1.07 billion (in bonds) the city is approved to float is our reality check that we will be paying for it, financially and visually, for the rest of our lives.

This piece touches upon concerns and unanswered questions regarding the cost, appearance and practicality of the planning, design and construction of the Locally Preferred Alternative.


In good or bad economic times, $6.8 billion ($5.4 billion for construction, $1.4 billion for maintenance) is a lot of money for an island population of fewer than 1 million to stomach. For many long-time residents, or those with long-time memories of government projects, most would feel greater comfort if they could see in more detail (such as station design limitations or construction budget breakdowns) how the city plans to spend the general excise tax surplus ($4.1 billion) from the goods/services we will be purchasing for 15 years. We would appreciate knowing specific alternative sources of income in the event the GET surplus doesn't reach its target income - much like this year. This request is good business practice and should be a standard for all project operations (lessons learned from the recent economic crisis). Without this, as a group with a large disposable income, we have fundamental concerns regarding the funding of the system for the next 15-plus years using our hard-earned money that would otherwise go into other parts of the local economy.

Several questions arise without transparency or clarity in the process:

If the sole source of funding for the city (plus bonds) is the 0.05 percent GET surcharge, can you promise us the surcharge will be lifted as proposed at the end of 2022, even if the project isn't complete? If not, is there a Plan B? Will you still guarantee the transit fare will be affordable for all users?

In the short term, what will happen if the city releases the initial $1.07 billion in funds and the federal government doesn't contribute the share the mayor has promised in 2011? Do we go for broke and just do it?

Is there a contingency plan if we don't get federal funding, the GET surplus is revoked, or the judges win their case? Maybe scaling down the project, funneling the accumulated GET surcharge to fast-lane the Bike Master Plan, updating TheBus fleet, improving TheBus route, or paving a parking lot at the Kalaeloa harbor and giving TheBoat a real chance to succeed?

Is it true that once we purchase this technology, we lose any sort of built-in flexibility for the future extensions?


In addition to further detailing the cost of the system, another major concern is the visual impact of a 50-foot high concrete track stretching 20 miles across Honolulu's world-famous south shore. Unlike the generations before us, we have had the fortunate opportunity to travel globally and experience a variety of innovative transit systems. We have seen clever station designs, well-placed routes, and the integration of activity with transit lines. So we hope, with the city's extensive travel to research transit systems, the final product will look and feel like many of the transit routes we have traversed over, reflecting the ingenuity found in other cities — while rooted in the values, uniqueness and future growth of each community it passes through.

Though the Locally Preferred Alternative offers the quickest and most reliable route, at what cost should we be willing to pay versus using another similar, perhaps less invasive, system? Weighing intangible social, cultural, aesthetic and future impacts to residents and visitors is a really tough responsibility — but it is also best practice.


Although the DEIS comment period has passed, and a historic decision was made through a twofold question on the 2008 ballot asking if we wanted steel wheel transit or nothing at all, decisions should not be made in haste nor with subjective judgments.

By the end of 2009, it will have been nearly three years since the mayor committed the city to building a mass transit. During this time and onward, other city and state agencies must concurrently be updating and reorienting their transportation related programming in order to seamlessly integrate and complement the rail. Improving other modes of transportation while transit implementation occurs will hugely begin to impact lifestyle and, as a result, improve traffic, making transit the icing on the cake.

To view a PDF of the testimony and signatures online, click here.