Following The Rail Soap Opera

Larry Price
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Wednesday - December 27, 2006
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There is an old saying in the communication business: Most people will believe just about anything if it’s whispered to them. Imagine then, that I’m whispering to you at this moment. “The Transit Showdown at Honolulu Hale” is the best soap opera in town. If you didn’t happen to watch it on public broadcasting last week you missed out on some real political drama.

If you aren’t interested in how the “Transit Showdown at Honolulu Hale” turned out, it’s probably because you either don’t understand all the estimates on how many people will ride the rail system if we actually build one some day, or you don’t really care because when it is finally finished you are going to be too old to ride it. Even if you live on the Windward or East side of Oahu, you’ll help pay for it.

One thing is for sure at this point: No one knows exactly how much the “fixed guideway” system will ultimately cost, simply because no one really knows the exact route the transportation system will take. And you can bet confidently that it’s going to cost at least twice the amount the politicians are saying right now, which is somewhere around $4.6 billion.

It seems pretty clear at this point that the “fixed guideway” system will start in Kapolei, because that’s where the future is, politically speaking, and stop somewhere in Monoa Valley, because that where Hawaii’s brains are. And it will eventually find a spur to Waikiki, because that’s were the state’s economic engine is.

And, as we all know, in any good soap opera, to find the answer one must always follow the money trail.

It’s interesting to note that one day before “The Transit Showdown at Honolulu Hale” the powerful Zoning Committee decided that there wouldn’t be any interim controls on transit development until at least next year. In a dazzling kung fu-type technique, the City Council approved, then deferred further action on, an amended bill to put a moratorium on development around transit stations that have not yet been designated. Because, as we said earlier, they are not sure of the route the system will take.

At issue is the touchy topic of land speculation and other possible development abuses. One of the real perks of being on the council is knowing the route of the $4.6 billion “fixed guideway” system so their constituents will have enough advanced notice to captialize on the information.

There is another thing you can be sure of (whispering again): Any councilmember who votes to defeat the “fixed guideway” will have publicly committed the equivalent of political hari-kari. As in other dramas, the die is cast and nothing is going to derail our proposed transit system, because anyone with any knowledge of government knows the economical health of your local economy depends on the what’s billed as “the largest construction project in Hawaii’s history.” Developers and construction gurus all over the world are already talking about building a “world class” sports complex strategically located in Kapolei so that fans from Waikiki can get there easily. Interesting to note that our state-of-the-art Halawa stadium’s location was determined by the intersecting of three super freeways, the H-1, H-2 and H-3, because, as the story went at the time, “It would make it easier to get to and from the stadium.”

It is only fair to say that the City Council has done a wonderful job of handling the mountains of information, volumes of tedious public testimony, and painfully long meetings, one of which went on for 13 hours. Through it all, the members smiled, asked civil questions and treated those speaking against the proposed transportation system with great political sophistication.

No matter how the final vote goes in January, the councilmembers deserve a pat on the back for representing their districts with diligence and dedication.

I heard that florists go to school for at least a year to learn how to make real flowers look like plastic. I have no idea how long it takes an elected member of a city council to sound like they understand the complexities of funding, constructing, maintaining and operating a multi-billion-dollar transportation project.

Wish them well. They only have a couple weeks to learn before they have to decide.

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