Mayor Peter Carlisle praised the jobs that Honolulu’s $5.5 billion rail transit project will bring as protesters complained about the cost and environmental impact at a groundbreaking ceremony this morning in Kapolei.
The ceremony, attended by about 400 people, took place near the construction site of the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, along Kualakai Parkway where the first of 21 train stations will be built.
"Today is a celebration, the beginning of a project that will change how we travel, work, play and live," said Carlisle. "This rail project was the effort of many people throughout the years. Rail will provide thousands of jobs for our local work force, relieve traffic congestion, improve mobility and pave the way for an exciting future for Oahu residents."
Construction on the Kroc Center echoed in the background as various dignitaries spoke.
"You get to see and hear the construction around here," said Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. "It’s not just about the short term jobs. It’s also about all the construction, all the development and all the smart growth that’s going to happen in this area and along the rail line."
Vocal rail opponents protested across the street from the ceremony, led by former mayoral candidate Panos Prevedouros, the League of Women Voters and Kioni Dudley, founder of community group Friends of Makakilo.
The group tried to shout down various speakers at the ceremony.
The protesters set up caution tape 100 yards wide and balloons 30 feet high to illustrate the size of the industrial imprint the first rail station will leave on the Ewa plain.
"All major environmental groups oppose this project," Prevedouros said. "That should tell people something."
A native Hawaiian cultural practitioner is suing the city, alleging it failed to complete an inventory survey of archaeological sites, including ancient Hawaiian burials, along the planned route.
Carlisle has said the city is satisfied it has followed the law and is confident it can successfully address the arguments in court.
A 20-mile elevated rail track is due to run from East Kapolei to Ala Moana while making stops in 21 places including Waipahu, Aiea, Kalihi, Chinatown and Kakaako.
U.S. Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, former Mayor Mufi Hannemann, state House Speaker Calvin Say, state Senate President Shan Tsutsui and several members of the City Council also attended the ceremony.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie couldn’t attend because he was testifying on the state budget at the Capitol this morning, and U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono is in Japan.
The city and state closed mauka-bound lanes of Kualakai Parkway, also known as the North-South Road, yesterday and today for the groundbreaking ceremony.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.