Saturday, November 28, 2015         


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Don't count on riding Honolulu rail any time soon

By Richard Borreca


It started with a rock.

A big rock in Moanalua Valley with an ancient Hawaiian drawing carved on its side.

The rock, Pohaku ka Luahine, can still teach a lesson in patience and politics.

That petroglyph and its historic significance caused the H-3 freeway to be rerouted from Moanalua to Halawa Valley. Construction of H-3 started in 1972, when the fellow who would be Honolulu's current mayor, Peter Carlisle, was 20 years old.

It wasn't until 1977 that the state fought its way through the courts and was able to shift the highway to North Halawa Valley.

In 1981, when Carlisle was 29, the court order that had stopped construction of H-3 through Moanalua Valley was found to cover the Halawa plans as well.

The state was back at the drawing board for a year, when the legal brakes squealed again as a new environmental impact statement was required.

By the time that our mayor was 35, all injunctions were lifted and construction resumed. By this time, the third EIS had to be approved.

Then finally -- a few months after Carlisle celebrated his 45th birthday in 1997 -- H-3 was opened.

The lesson to be learned is that the needle used to thread Hawaii's controversial construction projects must be particularly fine and you must be able to wait for years.

The trans-Koolau H-3 took 25 years. How long do you think it will be before we hear the Honolulu rail transit line call: "All aboard!"

This week two new groups turned over their cards:

» Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, a long time rail opponent linked up with those opposing the city's rail plan, saying more attention must be paid to the possible discovery of ancient Hawaiian burials along the construction route.

Cayetano was governor when the 16-mile, $1.3 million interstate highway was opened. It had originally been projected to cost $250 million.

» On Monday, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. filed suit in state court claiming that the city has not done a required inventory survey of archaeological sites, including ancient Hawaiian burials along the rail route.

You can see the train tracks already disappearing as the hopes of thousands of Leeward commuters locked in a daily gridlock nightmare also vanish.

GOP Rep. Cynthia Thielen (Kailua-Kaneohe) was a lawyer fighting against H-3 for 12 years. She predicts that the city will be spending years in court.

"This is a serious plaintiff, they have resources and are sophisticated litigators," Thielen says, adding that she expects rail opponents will go for injunctions to stop any construction.

This is going to make the city's case even more difficult because not only does this rail plan use mostly local dollars compared to H-3, which was 90 percent federally funded, but rail is paid for with a special tax that every Oahu consumer and taxpayer can see.

We are not talking about a single rock here; much of the history of Hawaii and her people are buried along the city's downtown rail corridor.

Ignoring or plowing through that ground could add years, even decades, to the project.


Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at

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