One year ago, the city’s Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board hired Dan Grabauskas as its CEO and executive director. Unlike his predecessor, Grabauskas promised to run an open and transparent administration and he started with putting several thousand documents about the rail that the media and the public had been requesting on HART’s web site.
But he wouldn’t debate rail opponents in the media or at an event. In fact, it took Grabauskas one year to agree just to appear in a public forum with opponents of the city’s planned $5.2 billion rail project.
On Tuesday, April 10, at the University of Hawaii’s art center, Grabauskas participated in a student-organized panel on the rail project along with HART Board member Ivan Lui-Kwan.
Grabauskas and Kwan faced off against rail opponents Dr. Panos Prevedouros, an engineering professor at the University, and Randy Roth, University of Hawaii law professor, who is one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging the rail project.
There were several restrictions at the educational forum that prevented opponents showing photos of what the rail will look like should it be built, and opponents of the rail project were also prevented from speaking about the lawsuit filed against the city and the Federal Transportation Administration. Roth, a lawyer and professor of law, said he was disappointed that at an educational forum he was not allowed to show photos of the rail project or discuss legal issues. Grabauskas said he was prevented from handing out educational materials about the rail.
Students protesting the rail brought hand made signs and banners, but they were told not to display the signs and the security threatened to confiscate the materials or have the students removed from the forum if they did not comply.
The moderator made at least three announcements that warned students not to get out of hand.
However, the forum was anything but rowdy. The four panelists shared information about the Honolulu rail project, traffic congestion on Oahu and the cost and effectiveness of rail in other cities.
The forum continued for more than two hours, with panelists taking questions from the diverse audience of students, faculty and community members.
As the panelists debated the cost, effectiveness and impact of the elevated rail line on Oahu, construction of the controversial 20-mile rail line from West Oahu to Ala Moana Center is on hold.
The project was halted temporarily by the Hawaii Supreme Court after a native Hawaiian plaintiff challenged the city over its Archeological Impact Statement. The high court ruled the city has to complete the AIS for the entire project before starting construction. HART officials estimate they can resume construction in the fall of 2013.
Meanwhile, eight other plaintiffs including Roth, former Gov. Ben Cayetano, retired Judge Walter Heen, transportation expert Cliff Slater, the Outdoor Circle, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, Small Business Hawaii Entrepreneurial Education Foundation and Dr. Michael Uechi, are appealing a U.S. District Court ruling on the rail’s Environmental Impact Statement to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs maintain the city and FTA violated federal law when they did not consider other alternatives to the elevated heavy steel on steel rail project. Wallace Tashima, a Ninth Circuit Judge sitting in on the case because all local federal judges claimed they had a conflict of interest, sided with the plaintiffs on three of 23 counts, but it was not enough to stop the project altogether as the plaintiffs had hoped.