Rail Supporters Should Speak Up

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - September 07, 2011
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Every time Honolulu’s rail project gets mentioned in the news lately it’s something scary or negative a lawsuit, a question of cost overruns or delays, a fear the nation’s financial crisis could derail our project or cripple it.

It’s OK. We need to hear all of it, good and bad. Problem is, we tend to hear only the bad.

I think it’s time for rail supporters to come back out and make a little noise. Make yourselves heard again. Don’t allow the conversation to be one-sided. It seems to me that once the project got approved, those who were making passionate and sensible arguments for it apparently decided they were no longer needed and went to sleep. I have an uneasy feeling they need to wake up. Complacency is not an option when it comes to a huge controversy magnet like this. Anything can be derailed if one side is active and vocal and the other side is silent and passive.

I am on record as supporting rail. I believe we need it. Our future demands that we protect our environment, that we have viable transportation choices. Clean mass transit must be one of the options on the menu. To remain stuck in the status quo is unacceptable.

If done right, a fixed guideway system can ease the strain on traffic, and that makes environmental sense. It can provide a much-needed transportation link from Kapolei to Downtown. It could ease the horrendous traffic nightmare for thousands of families who are stuck in it every day as they make their way from Leeward or Central Oahu. It would revitalize the construction industry, stimulate business and economic development and provide opportunities for employment.

But it needs to be done right. That’s why I think we must continue our ongoing conversation. When I mentioned the two sides at the top of this column, I was basically stating the obvious “for it or against it” mentality that we tend to fall into when discussing complex issues. But that’s simplistic. It’s also unrealistic. Black and white only works for old movies and zebras. We have to deal with life in all its messy, Technicolor glory. That means dealing with problems and setbacks and challenges as they come up. That means allowing for surprises, changing minds and adjusting plans when necessary.

We, the public, need to remain in the loop and not pretend that government will handle it for us without input and support. I’m not advocating rah, rah cheerleading or unconditional support. I’m talking about stating positions and concerns clearly and without exaggeration or hysteria.

In order for the process to work, government has to listen really listen to our concerns and act on them when it can. Listen to the voices of the people who are tired of traffic hell. Listen to those who say we need to design a system that doesn’t close up our views. Listen to those who are concerned about preserving historic places and landmarks. Listen and find ways to work together to find solutions.

What we must not do is allow the project to get bogged down with lawsuits and a “them against us” mentality. Any project this huge and potentially gamechanging has its opponents. But when opposition hardens into obstructionism, everybody loses. My biggest fear for rail is that it will somehow stumble into a legal no man’s land. H-3, anyone? That project fell into the abyss of the court system and finally emerged, 20 years and millions of dollars later, to a public that said, “Hey we like this! Why’d it take so long?”

What a waste of our time and money. Let’s not let it happen with rail.

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