We’ve never gotten this far with rail. Now that we have, we are seeing things that are extremely serious problems. The government is intent on barreling ahead, fearing that if we veer in any way from the original plan, the whole project might fall off the track. But it’s far better to correct the problems now than to cast them in cement. The millions of dollars the city has already spent on rail already are nothing compared to the billions we might save with changes to the plans.
Starting with downtown problems: Who really wants a noisy, elevated monstrosity with third-floor, "floating football field" stations, and long lines of graffiti-covered pillars running through the middle of our beautiful city? Who wants downtown views to the ocean destroyed? We need to get back to conceptual stage, and work out a "rail plus" system that contributes to the city, rather than destroys it.
At the other end of the line, in Kapolei, the rail ignores the traffic problems it was supposed to solve. Instead it benefits developers. The current route cuts a wide swath across our most valuable farmland, 1,500 highly productive acres, land we need for fresh produce, and land future generations will need for survival. Rail is being used as a wedge to force urban land designation for that property, with the goal not just of covering it with housing but of placing on it two transit-oriented developments (dense mini-cities surrounding rail stations), raising its value astronomically for developer-owner, D.R. Horton.
Those hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars could, instead, go to the people of Hawaii, if the lucrative transit-oriented development (TOD) was moved onto the University of Hawaii West Oahu (UHWO) property where it logically belongs.
The rail should start at a UHWO station, and head makai (south) through a university-owned TOD, then down to join the Oahu Railway & Land (OR&L) line, where it can serve the residents of Ewa and Ewa Beach on its way to the city. There currently is not one single rail parking stall planned for the 80,000 people expected to live in the Ewa area. They will drive under the tracks on their 2 1/2 -hour commute to the city, further clogging the freeway for everybody.
Rail in the sky itself is a problem. Each piling will go 60-100 feet below the surface. Columns above ground will be 30-90 feet high, with spans laid across the tops. Many of the skilled workers needed for this will have to come from the mainland.
By contrast, rail on the ground requires going only 2-3 feet below the surface. It can be built entirely by local workers, following the OR&L right-of-way, which is government owned, 40 feet wide, and crosses only five streets in the 10 miles between UHWO and the stadium. It provides beautiful views of the water, serves every shopping area along the route, and would become a major tourist attraction during nonpeak hours.
Further, if the OR&L route were used, citizens would be spared years of massive traffic tie-up on busy Farrington Highway and Kamehameha Highway and merchants along the route would not be driven out of business . The OR&L right-of-way never has been seriously studied.
Rail poses another extremely serious problem — too much job creation. Amazing, but true. Table 4-35 of the Rail Environmental Impact Study promises 81,175 new jobs over the next 10 years. That’s 53,000 jobs more than our local work force can fill, 53,000 more workers that will need to be brought from the mainland. With families, that’s 150,000 more in-migrating people. Why are we building a rail for 87,300 round-trip riders if building it will cause a population increase of 150,000, with all of the needs they will bring? What are we doing to ourselves? What are we doing to our island?
The governor of New Jersey has just called a halt to its half-finished tunnel to New York City because it would bankrupt the state. Our citizens have a similar fear.
We genuinely do need the rail, or something. But so many huge problems have become apparent. We need to back up, restudy the whole picture and get rail right. Until we do, we need to bring all rail activities to a halt.
This commentary was signed by these 38 people:
Z. Aki, Hawaii Imiloa Movement
David E. Ashworth
Pamela Boyar, Haleiwa Farmers Market
Bel Santa Elena-DeGracia
Jon K. Faurot
Robert D. Ford, USN (Ret.) captain
Charles A. Fox
Pearl Johnson, League of Women Voters planning committee chairwoman
John Luan, engineering manager (Ret.)
Geoffrey Paterson, AIA emeritus
Reg White, vice president, Paradise Cruise Ltd.