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Editorial | Island Voices

Rail will help direct growth across Oahu

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Rail will benefit growth management on Oahu. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Pearl City-Aiea was country. Above Kamehameha Highway, sugar cane fields grew from the current site of the Sears Distribution Warehouse far up into the hills. Moanalua Road was an unpaved cane haul road regularly sprinkled with oil to keep the dust down. Freshwater springs and watercress farms dotted lower Pearl City and Aiea.

Farther west, sugar cane and pineapple fields covered Ewa and Kunia, and Waipahu and Ewa Beach were plantation towns. People living west of Red Hill at that time had not chosen to live in an urban area and did not have traffic problems going into Honolulu.

Rapid population growth, however, was on the horizon for Oahu, with statehood and the decline of Oahu’s sugar and pineapple operations. A deep-draft harbor was planned for Kaneohe Bay and massive commercial and residential development planned for the Windward side of Oahu, including an oil refinery in Temple Valley and dense residential development from Kahaluu to the Waiahole and Waikane Valleys. Resorts were planned for the Queen’s Beach area — just east of the burgeoning master-planned Hawaii Kai community — and in 1968, the first homes were sold in the new master-planned Mililani Town.

Reacting to such plans for urban development scattered across Oahu, Oahu’s people in 1977 adopted a General Plan designating the Ewa plains as the island’s secondary urban center, directing growth to that region. The purpose of directing growth to Ewa was, in large part, to lessen development pressures elsewhere. Oahu’s people as a whole chose to have the Leeward side bear the bulk of the burden of industrial/commercial development and population growth for the benefit of the rest of the island.

You don’t help direct growth, however, by simply putting a mark on a map. You help direct growth by providing the public infrastructure necessary for the area toward which growth is directed. Rail mass transit integrated with the city’s bus system is a perfect example of such public infrastructure.

A mass transit system that provides a reliable way (i.e., not on the same roads as automobile traffic) to get from Oahu’s primary urban center (Honolulu) to its secondary urban center (Kapolei) is important for the success of the secondary urban center. Kapolei was never meant to be a duplicate of Honolulu; some services and facilities would and should be unique to each. An elevated rail transit system will certainly help people who must travel between Honolulu and Kapolei to access such services and facilities.

Our population will continue to grow over the long term; as part of the United States, Hawaii cannot stop people from moving here or having babies. Indeed, the state Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism has projected that an additional 200,000 people will be living on Oahu by 2030.

If the rail transit system between Oahu’s primary and secondary urban centers is not built, there will have to be substantially increased population densities throughout the rest of Oahu, particularly the Windward side, since that is where the Pali, Likelike and H-3 byways go. We would need to have 400-foot height limits for condominiums and apartments from Kailua to Kaneohe, at a minimum, to absorb some of the growth that has been expected to be directed to the Ewa plains.

I do not believe that most of us want to see the Windward side become a densely populated urban center. I do believe that we should all support rail transit as: (1) a necessary component of the public infrastructure required for the success of Oahu’s secondary urban center, Kapolei; (2) a valuable tool for the revitalization of Oahu’s urban core (through transit-oriented development, among other things); and (3) a critical weapon in our fight to direct growth and prevent urban sprawl.

 

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