Rail: It’s Really Not About Transit

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - February 28, 2007

The recent decision regarding the rail transit proposal by the Honolulu City Council to bypass Honolulu International Airport in favor of a route via Salt Lake Boulevard proves the rail project is not a transportation solution but rather a government employment insurance policy.

To understand what’s really happening, let’s go back in American history for a little perspective.

It was October 1929 and our nation was in economic shambles. The beginning of the Great Depression would leave an indelible mark on our society, and would serve as an entry for government to take the lead role in America’s recovery.


Franklin D. Roosevelt was governor of New York at the onset of the Wall Street crash. The effects of this upheaval were felt in all corners of the country and led to devastating job loss. Individuals and entire families literally lost all they possessed and were forced to live as vagabonds in search of food, shelter and employment.

Roosevelt recognized something needed to be done and done now. He set up the New York State Emergency Relief Commission with the prime objective of getting people back to work. He was successful in mitigating the deleterious effects of joblessness and put New Yorkers on the payroll. He was viewed as a great success as governor, and this reputation served him well in the future.

Roosevelt’s future had arrived. As a well-respected and popular governor, he was tapped to become the 1932 Democrat candidate for president of the United States. Although he was not specific in his strategies in dealing with the Depression, he handily defeated Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover. Hoover had his own issues with the voters while lording over “Hoover-Villes” and his shabby and violent treatment of WWI veterans seeking cash bonuses promised by the U.S. government.

Roosevelt won handily.


The new president took immediate action in assisting the nation’s economy. The banking industry was first on his list. Americans’ confidence in banks had been severely damaged as statistics showed about 20 percent of banks closed their doors. As a result, about 15 percent of people had lost their life savings and others had resorted to hoarding their cash in homes. FDR ordered all banks to close and urged Congress to pass legislation to ensure customers would not lose their money in the event of another financial catastrophe.

The next priority was employment. This necessitated a special session of Congress where President Roosevelt made a revealing statement defining his economic policies. He said that unemployment could only be solved “by direct recruiting by the Government itself.” For the next three months, Roosevelt proposed and Congress passed a series of important bills that attempted to deal with the problem of unemployment. The special session of Congress became known as the Hundred Days and provided the basis of Roosevelt’s New Deal. (spartacus.school-net.co.uk)

Let’s fast-forward to Hawaii 2007.

We have enjoyed tremendous economic growth over the past six-plus years. But there appears to be a crack in the dam. Unemployment rates, the lowest in the country, continue to remain subterranean. Some believe this to be a long-term detriment to our economy. Employers must pay more in such a competitive job market, causing prices to increase. The dearth of employees prevents business expansion. The rate of inflation in Hawaii is at an all-time high. The blazing hot housing market of a couple of years ago has cooled, meaning homes construction (save for some massive development) will be chilly, too.

The conclusion is that our economy is poised for a correction.

In order to stave off an inevitably slower economy, now and in the future, our local government is emulating the Roosevelt strategy for job creation and assurance.


That there will be no discernible alleviation of traffic congestion, and the initial phase of construction excludes two major destinations, the airport and University of Hawaii-Manoa, it’s clear the primary benefit of this proposed multibillion-dollar public works project is to mitigate a future employment and economic collapse.

The template for the justification of Honolulu’s rail transit project can be traced to Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”

Unfortunately for Honolulu taxpayers, the rail transit project will prove to be a “Raw Deal.”

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