Tampa’s HOT Alternative To Rail

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - November 08, 2006

The recent announcement by the Hannemann administration about selecting a rail alternative for mass transit was like unveiling a scientific study showing kids like chocolate.

If the mayor had his way, the Honolulu City Council would have already voted and officially chosen rail as the preferred alternative. But to the council’s credit, there is a desire to actually conduct several public hearings to allow taxpayers to ask questions, provide testimony and directly participate in the selection process. I know there is a sense of fait accompli that this is a done deal. Conventional wisdom tells us all that’s left is for the fat lady to sing. Although she may be warming up, she hasn’t taken the stage yet.


There exists a glimmer of hope that Honolulu taxpayers won’t be subjected to the rail alternative, the costliest public works project in the history of the state. Although any solution to traffic issues will require an investment, it doesn’t have to be this behemoth of a black hole which necessitates a tax increase in the aggregate of billions of dollars.

It’s frightfully amusing to me how public officials can so easily throw huge financial numbers around when discussing the rail project. We have heard figures from $3 billion to $3.6 billion to $4.2 billion to $4.6 billion to $5.2 billion to $5.5 billion to $6.2 billion. I’d just like to interject that each number after the period is $100 million. But, then again, what’s a couple hundred mil when we’re talking about billions of dollars, especially when you are picking up the tab?

But I did mention hope. Although the Hannemann administration has given a full court press for rail, it’s the Honolulu City Council that has the ball. It is ultimately its decision that will determine our strategy to alleviate congestion and prevent expansive gridlock on our freeways. Believe it or not, there is a viable alternative.

The deliberative consideration of HOT lanes, or the managed lane alternative by the Honolulu City Council is essential to this debate. I know Mayor Hannemann and others have stumped in your neighborhood touting the virtues of rail. They’ve orchestrated symposiums celebrating the panacea of rail transit and declared the train as the salvation for beleaguered commuters.

There has not been a hard sell like this since Ford rolled out the Edsel.

Honolulu City Council chair Donovan Dela Cruz and councilmen Todd Apo, Romy Cachola and Charles Djou have indicated they will be traveling to Tampa, Fla., to examine the success of the Tampa Bay HOT lane system. Djou feels so passionately about exploring other options to rail that he is paying for his own trip and not accepting any taxpayer money. I would hope other members of the City Council would make it to Tampa. I would be willing to have a car wash or have a bake sale if Budget Committee chairwoman Ann Kobayashi would make the trip. She is an astute observer and the most influential member. Once witnessing firsthand the benefit of a HOT lane alternative, I think she would have some interesting questions for the mayor.


Those who go to Tampa will find a road system that has alleviated congestion, found tremendous support from the federal government, cost billions less that our proposed rail transit plan and did not require and increase in taxes. Yes, Virginia, there is an alternative.

I leave you with this for our next round of conversation regarding the selection of rail as the locally preferred alternative for mass transit. Mayor Hannemann applied a litmus test to all city and county projects during his campaign and it became the mantra leading him to Honolulu Hale.

“Do we need it?”

“Can we afford it?”

“Can we maintain it?” Good questions, especially when it comes to rail.

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