Who Profits From Rail Transit

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - July 02, 2008

If you’re fatigued by the conversation regarding the proposed rail transit system for Honolulu, get used to it. This is only the beginning.

We are entering the finger-pointing phase of the debate. This is where both sides of the issue will tell us the other guy is completely and absolutely dead wrong. The anti-rail people will tell you the pro-rail people are lying and the pro-rail people will tell you the anti-rail people are lying. And here we are in the middle trying to make heads or tails of what really is best for our town and who really is telling the truth.

I have made it no secret that I am not a supporter of the rail transit project. The fundamental reasons are cost and the admitted lack of roadway congestion relief. I am a proponent of fully vetting any and all alternatives before we commit to several billions of dollars for construction and maintenance of a project that clearly does not have the consensus of our community.

At the risk of repeating myself, I believe a full consideration of the following is necessary:

* The promise of Kapolei, the Second City, fulfilled.
* The decentralization of state and city jobs from metro Honolulu.
* The substantial relocation of classes and students from UHManoa to UH-West Oahu.
* The interconnectivity between the Department of Motor Vehicles, Honolulu Police Department and insurance companies to remove uninsured motorists from the roads.
* The precise and thorough analysis of public and private school schedules relating to peak-hour traffic.
* The public and widely disseminated information of alternative traffic solutions such as signal modifications, left-turn analyses and underpass construction.

Despite the desire to have these issues explored as vigorously as the rail project has been promoted, one has to question why there’s such vociferous support of rail. The simple reason is money. The sheer volume of cash is dizzying. Think about our county with a population of about 700,000 adults paying for a project estimated to cost $5 billion or more. This money will be paid to somebody. Clearly, this system will be a windfall for several individuals and organizations. A prime example is the $10,000 monthly check issued to former U.S. Department of Transportation secretary Norman Mineta for “consultant” work.

Nice gig, if you can get it. To give you an idea of the volume of cash, Parsons-Brinckerhoff, the primary paid consultant on the rail project, received a two-and-a-half-year, $86 million contract from the city. The estimated duration of the project is until 2017, when Mayor Hannemann would like to see the entire rail system up and running.

This is just one short-term contract with one consultant. How many other contracts will there be over the next decade, and at what cost? The city is promising economic benefit with the rail project. According to published reports, an estimated 9,100 jobs will be created, funded with billions of dollars. However, this economic growth is not based on the creation of wealth; rather, it is the re-distribution of wealth. It was reported some months ago in one of the daily papers that “the economic impact of the construction jobs will be created by essentially transferring revenues from households to construction.” I agree.

I am a supporter of common-sense traffic solutions. I believe there are other strategies we can employ that will achieve what should be our No. 1 objective: reducing congestion on our roads.

Regardless of your position on this issue, it is obvious that rail is not a done deal. The Stop Rail Now ballot initiative is alive and well, the federal government has yet to perform a cost/benefit analysis based on a required Environmental Impact Statement, and future elections may change the complexion of pro-rail elected officials.

Perhaps in order to cut through the cacophony there should be an independent assessment from a disinterested third party to give us unbiased and truly objective transportation recommendations. If we throw that ingredient into the mix, maybe we will be on the right track to finding a real solution to our traffic woes.

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