Let The Voters Decide On Rail

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - April 30, 2008
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About a week ago, Honolulu Hale witnessed democracy in action as a self-organized group of Honolulu citizens, “Stop Rail Now,” held a press conference announcing its goal of collecting more than 40,000 signatures calling for a referendum on November’s ballot, i.e. “Let the People Decide.”

And given that most agree the mayor’s $4 billion to $5 billion rail dream is the most expensive public works project in Hawaii’s history, and is initially financed by a 12.5 percent increase in Oahu’s General Excise Tax, indeed the people should decide.

With the exception of columnist David Shapiro, who gets it - “Maybe it’s time for voters to weigh in on rail,” he wrote in the Advertiser last Wednesday, the Advertiser‘s editorial staff doesn’t think so. Under the headline “Rail initiative offers no solution to voters,” the editorial fails to acknowledge that the “rail” itself, by the administration’s own admission, offers no solution either. It won’t make a dent in our traffic mess as we were led to believe when we acquiesced to the 12.5 percent GET increase. How does the editor feel about a $5 billion non-solution?

“Rather we should hold accountable our elected leaders entrusted to make these decisions.”

That’s a laugh! How do we hold accountable previous mayors and councils for the deterioration of Honolulu’s sewer system? Or for the failure to make infrastructure keep pace with growth? Or for the current lack of affordable housing? How will we hold Hannemann and the City Council accountable in 10 or 20 years when our children are still paying for the “non-solution” train and traffic is worse than ever, and they have all moved on? Don’t vote for them in November? That would be as futile as expecting the Advertiser to reverse its policy of endorsing more than 95 percent of all the incumbents on the ballot every election.

The wording the “Stop Rail Now” group proposes for the November ballot is: “Honolulu mass transit shall not include trains or rail ... Yes or No?” But the editorial takes issue, “If not rail, what? And the question will be neither asked on the ballot, nor answered by the vote.”

In fact, viable alternatives to rail abound, but can’t be a part of the ballot because of the immediacy of the issue. If rail is not stopped dead in its tracks in November, the alternatives become moot.

In his letter to the editor in MidWeek Feb. 27, 2008, Craig Watase, president of Mark Development, further confirms the shibai: “All along, those that understand urban planning and sustainability have understood that rail is about growth, not reducing traffic.” In his letter, which for the most part is a reprint of his article in Hawaii Reporter, Watase ignores the multitude of advantages of comparatively inexpensive, elevated, reversible, HOV lanes (featuring state-of-theart quiet, articulated, hybrid express buses, corporate vans and toll lanes) would rather have a 20th century, inflexible fixed rail system that would be obsolete at the ribbon cutting. Watase insists the proposed rail would encourage vertical growth (high rise) around each of the stations and that HOV lanes would encourage lateral growth (urban sprawl).

But wait a minute! Shouldn’t growth patterns and content be controlled by the zoning laws and developer requirements set in place by the city administration rather than as a byproduct of transportation technology and a hope for the best? Are the mayor and the council ducking their responsibility to make the hard choices on sustainable growth through proactive zoning law?

Dear readers, these questions need to be answered, and we need to educate ourselves on potentially the most fiscally disastrous state project of our generation - and likely generations to come. First and foremost, please go to www.stoprailnow.com to download the petition, ask family, friends and neighbors to sign it with you, and then mail in ASAP. Check out www.honolulutraffic.com to read recent articles, including one in April 22 U.S. News & World Report: “Mass transit systems drain city coffers.”

Finally, please go to www.midweek.com, scroll down the left side to “politics,” click on “Coffee Break” then click on “archives” (below the five most recent articles) and review my columns on this issue: Feb. 20, ‘08; Aug. 29, ‘07; and Jan. 10, ‘08.

This is about time we spend unnecessarily in traffic each day and about time we don’t spend with our families.

And it’s about time we have our say.

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