Friday, November 27, 2015         


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Mayor should step off the train and let HART do the steering

By David Shapiro


In a commentary in Sunday's newspaper, Mayor Peter Carlisle made an impassioned plea for taking the politics out of the city's $5.3 billion rail project by letting the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation build and run the train without interference from elected officials.

Referring to the possible legal battle brewing between his administration and the City Council over control of rail finances, Carlisle said:

"The people don't want the largest public works project in Honolulu's history to be a ping pong ball between elected officials — this includes myself as the mayor as well as the Council — and to be tinkered with before and after every election cycle."

You can't argue with his logic, but if Carlisle really wants to take the politics out of rail, the challenge to him is, "You first, Mister Mayor."

Carlisle and his predecessor Mufi Hannemann politicized rail more than any Council member or outside interest group.

Just as Hannemann built his unsuccessful campaign for governor around rail, Carlisle has made this project the centerpiece of his announced plans to seek two more terms as Honolulu mayor.

He's stifled discussion of alternate visions for rail, denigrated opponents and deployed public relations people to smack down contrary views online and on the ground.

While arguing that key rail decisions should be left to HART, his administration has done the opposite by rushing through major actions to lock in HART before it officially comes into being on Friday.

The administration signed a $372 million construction contract for the project's second phase well over a year before construction can begin on the first phase and recently pushed a $104 million bond authorization through the Council more than a year before the money is needed.

The city signed a $574 contract to buy 80 rail cars from the Italian company Ansaldo years before any cars will be needed and despite the company's history of troubles in other cities.

Competing bidders have filed protests claiming that the contract was structured with the true costs hidden to favor Ansaldo. The administration officially rejected the protests last week in an attempt to seal the deal before HART takes control of the process.

There's no reason these decisions couldn't have waited for HART if Carlisle was sincere in his desire to have the big decisions on rail made by "a professional board of directors whose single-minded focus is to build and operate the rail transit project honestly, transparently, on time, and within budget."

To gain credibility, HART needs to assert its independence early by hiring an executive director with no ties to the city administration and taking a fresh look at whether the bidding process for the rail cars needs to be started over.

David Shapiro can be reached at or

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